Recorded in 1964, Egyptian Umm Kalthoum’s most popular hit is more than just a beautiful love song; it’s also the brainchild of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, who used the song to boost his influence in the Arab world.
This is part 1 of a 6-part series
The songs featured in this five-part series on African music are oddities, especially compared to today’s hits. In an age dominated by dull one-hit wonders that are quickly forgotten, artists of the hits highlighted in this series stand out because they went on to have long music careers.
And while today’s songs last three and a half minutes on average, making them 20 seconds shorter than those from five years ago (according to research from The Future Laboratory), the tracks in our selection are generally longer. Salif Keita’s Mandjou goes on for over 10 minutes, Fela Kuti’s Zombie lasts 12 minutes and Bembeya Jazz National’s Regard sur le passé is a whopping 40 minutes long. But Umm Kulthum tops them all with her almost hour-long work Enta Omri.
Could it be that these songs are longer because the artists had more to say?
Crafting an epic poem (Regards sur le passé) or attacking the Nigerian government’s depravity (Zombie) takes more time than singing a fluffy pop number. But even love songs (Enta Omri) and light-hearted dance tunes (Pata Pata) can conceal deeper meanings that are sometimes difficult to pick up on today.
We revisit five songs in their original historical, artistic and political context.
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