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AfriGeneas Writers Forum

Itab of Saudi Arabia: A Black Lady of Song

Dear AfriGeneas Writers Forum:

After spending five years visiting Egypt, I became a great fan of one of its greatest legends, singer Umm Kulthoum. Although "The Lady" passed away in 1975, she is still revered all over the world. No one will ever take her place.

Last year I read a tribute in Al-Ahram to another singer who'd passed away in her adopted Egypt. Her name was Itab. Author, Gamal Nkrumah’s tribute reminded me that literature, music and the arts transcends historical and cultural boundaries. Words are an art form. They can be read, spoken and in the case of Itab they can be sung with moving compassion.

Itab, a beautiful black Saudi woman was one of the most famous singers in the Arab world.

Gamal Nkrumah in his tribute to Itab writes of a determined woman "...after a life of struggle against suffocating conservatism, the traditions of her people triumphed in her own personal realm.”

Nkrumah explains that she was not a “sharmoota” (whore) but rather an artist whose music offended some Muslims.

“Her extemporising melodies attracted a huge following. In Egypt, she quite literally let her hair down. She was not a "whore", she just wanted to do what her people had done for millennia, albeit in the form of verse. Traditional Saudi societal attitudes frowned on music ostensibly because of a hadith (saying) of the Prophet Mohamed. Music, according to the kingdom's highest religious authorities, propped up promiscuity and licentiousness. This was especially the case when the entertainer was female.”

Please read the complete tribute to Itab, a black Saudi born singer. Also note that some of the words read in our American English may seem cumbersome or questionable. The title “Black BUT Comely”, for instance. Please read on.

Click on the link below to Al-Ahram and Nkrumah’s tribute.

Itab was indeed a Black lady of song.

Write Away

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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