TEL AVIV — Most people have heard of Egyptian sultry siren Umm Khultum, the greatest female Arabic singer in history who dominated Middle Eastern stages and airwaves from the 1930s to the 1970s and still enjoys widespread acclaim. However, though she too was a prominent singer of popular classical Egyptian music leading up to the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, the same cannot be said of Souad Zaki.
Had political realities been different, Zaki may have become an international singing sensation like Umm Khultum, who picked Zaki to co-star in the hit 1945 film “Salamah.” But as nationalism and anti-Semitism took hold in Egypt, Zaki, a proud Jew and Zionist, left her birthplace and privileged status behind for the life of a struggling immigrant in the young Jewish State.
Thus, just as Zaki’s star was rising in Egypt, she became a cleaning lady at a bank in Tel Aviv.
In the wake of the recent Egyptian Revolutions, there has been renewed interest in famous female Jewish singers from Egypt. Music fans have been reintroduced to Layla Mourad, the voice of the 1952 Revolution. Mourad, who was of Iraqi-Jewish and Polish-Jewish descent, reportedly converted to Islam for her husband, or career — or both.
Faiza Rushdi, an Egyptian-Jewish singer who, like Zaki, moved to Israel, came to broad Israeli public attention over a decade ago when her daughter Yaffa Tusiah-Cohen staged a one-woman show titled, “Ana Faiza,” about their difficult mother-daughter relationship. (The story was followed up in a 2002 documentary film by Sigalit Banai, called, “Mama Faiza.”)
But of the three great female Jewish-Egyptian singers of the 20th century, only Souad Zaki has been all but forgotten by all but the most diehard Arabic music fans. For this reason, Zaki’s son Moshe, a psychologist from Haifa, was pleased to meet with The Times of Israel to recount his mother’s unusual life story.