The music of the Arabs is a diverse mix of genres and styles. Some regions have their own traditional sound, performed either in their native language, or in the language of other regions, or in English. Whatever it is, their songs are enriched by their culture and history.
Then we have singers who came from Arab countries. Combining classical Arabic, Khalidjian, folk and pop sounds, they have become iconic not only in their country, but all over the world. So in this post, let’s pay tribute to these amazing talents. Read on to learn about the 16 greatest and most famous Arab singers.
- Umm Kulthum
- Farid Al-Atrash
- Mohammed Abd El-Wahhab
- Kadim Al Sahir
- Nancy Ajram
- Abdel Halim Hafez
- Ehab Tawfik
- Layla Murad
- Najat Al-Saghira
- Wadih El Safi
- Summing up our list of great Arab performers
We begin this list with Umm Kultum, who has had one of the greatest influences on Arabic music. During her lifetime, she was one of the most famous Egyptian singers and actresses. Actively performing from the 1940s to the 1960s, Kultum combined classical and Egyptian music in her repertoire. Her songs include “Raqq Il-Habib” (The lover’s heart softens) and “Al-Atlal” (Ruins).
Kultum was known for her impressive vocal control, creativity, emotional performances and carefully managed public image. Her musical influence was known all over the world, many international artists, such as Bob Dylan, Bono and Robert Plant, highly appreciated her work.
Although Farid al-Atrash was born in Syria, his family immigrated to Egypt when he was still a child. He studied music and often sang at school events. He later became a student of the Egyptian composer Riad al-Sunbati. Al-Atrash started making music on the radio in the 1930s. His unusual and convincing voice gave life to many Arabic songs about love, religion and patriotism, such as “Ya Zahratan Fi Khaialy” (Flower of My Imagination) and “Rabeeh” (Spring).
Most of all, Al-Atrash’s fans love his tendency to sing mawwals during live performances, which sometimes last up to 15 minutes. The singer also masterfully plays the oud, an Arabic musical instrument without frets, which has a pear–shaped shape.
Nuhad Wadi’ Haddad, better known as Fayrouz, is a Lebanese singer who was one of the leading Arab singers in the world. Her public debut took place on a national radio station in the 1940s. From that moment on, Fayrouz’s career developed. She has toured and performed all over the world and released many famous songs such as “Zahrat al-Mada’en” and “Habbaytak Bissayf”.
After more than 60 years of career, Fayrouz has received several awards, including the Jordan Medal of Honor and the Commander of Arts and Literature in France. Now Fayrouz is retired, but she has released more than 80 albums, more than a thousand songs and participated in dozens of musicals.
Mohammed Abd El-Wahhab
A native of Egypt, Mohammed Abd el-Wahhab was a famous actor, singer and composer who worked actively for most of the 20th century. Waheb was also known for his ability to combine traditional Egyptian music with elements of Western sound, such as waltz and rock. As a result, he helped attract listeners from all over the world.
Being a nationalist, Waheb also has a number of revolutionary songs. Among them stand out “El Watan El Akbar” (The Greatest homeland) and “Ya Masr tam El-Hanna” (Oh Egypt, happiness is here). Although many remember him primarily as a singer or actor, Wahab’s composing activity may have had the greatest influence on Arabic music. In fact, the national anthem of Libya was written by him.
Kadim Al Sahir
Kadeem Jabbar al-Samarai, or Kadeem al-Sahir, is an Iraqi singer, known as a performer of classical, opera and folk-pop music. Active since the 1980s, al-Sahir has released songs that have made him a big name in the Middle East. These include ”Tathakkar”, which earned him a UNICEF award, and “Ahbeni”.
Although Sahir’s music is sometimes a mixture of different genres, he prefers to sing along with an orchestra of traditional Arabic instruments such as oud, nai, kanun and others. By 2022, Sahir has released more than 20 albums. He has toured around the world and performed at major venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Beacon Theater in New York.
Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram started her music career very early. She was only 15 years old when she signed her first record deal. She is now known for her many contributions to Arabic pop, dance music and Coca-Cola advertising.
Ajram’s breakthrough came with the release of the song “Akhasmak Ah” in 2002. After that, she released several albums that hit the charts, such as Ya Salam and Shakhbat Shakhabit. Since then, she has released 12 studio albums and more than 50 singles. The singer also voiced some Coca-Cola commercials from 2007 to 2014. She has also been a judge on numerous TV talent shows including Arab Idol and The Voice Kids.
Abdel Halim Hafez
The next is the Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez, whose popularity peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Hafez studied music as a teenager. Later he became a music teacher and at the same time sang in Egyptian clubs. Live radio appearances brought him the attention he needed for a break.
However, it took time for his singing style to catch on, but eventually Hafez became Egypt’s first romantic singer. Songs like “Ahwak” (I Adore You), “Gana El Hawa” (The mood struck us) and “Zai El Hawa” (Like Love) are among his popular works. Unfortunately, Hafez’s career was cut short due to poor health. He died in 1997, but by that time his work had influenced many, including foreign performers. Elements of his song “Khosara” were used by Jay-Z in the movie “Big Pimpin'”.
The modern Syrian singer Assala opened the world of Arabic music with the album Law Ta’rafou in 1991. Thanks to its classical compositions in the style of Egyptian tarab, the album became a hit, especially thanks to the songs “Samehtak Ketir” and “Ya Sabra Yana”.
Since then, she has released almost 30 studio albums and numerous singles. Besides Arabic music, Assala also combines her style with pop music, arabesques and khaliji sounds. Assala also performed at the 2019 World Summer Special Olympics, singing the song “Right Where I’m Supposed to Be”, and hosted the TV program Soula.
Although Varda was born in Paris, she was of Lebanese and Algerian descent. Her father owned the Tam-Tam cabaret, where many famous singers such as Farid al-Atrash performed; here, Varda held her first performance as a musical artist.
During the Algerian war, she and her family moved to Beirut. Without stopping there, Varda continued her career as a singer and eventually got a place in the Pan-Arab opera, singing the song “Al Watan al Akbar”. Known for her impeccable intonation and powerful voice, Varda performed until the end of her life, releasing more than 300 songs. Her last performance took place in Lebanon just a year before her death in 2012, but to this day she remains a cult figure in Arabic music.
A native of Cairo, Egypt, our next contemporary singer is Ehab Tawfiq. Influenced by Abdel Wahab and Umm Kultum at an early age, Tawfiq often sang at school events and learned to play the oud before the age of 10.
After winning a local talent contest in 1989, Taufiq’s singing career began to gain momentum. His performance at a charity concert in favor of the victims of the Gulf War in 2001 brought him even greater fame.
Tawfiq’s style, which includes shabibi (a popular Egyptian genre) and the more traditional watani, has won him many fans. The songs “Sahrany” (She charmed me), “Habibi” (My favorite) and “Hobbak Aliminni” (Your love taught me) are among the most popular.
Egyptian singer and actress Leila Murad comes from a musical family. She started her career early, making her debut at the age of nine when she appeared on stage in Saalat Badi’a. With the help of Egyptian composer Davoud Hussney, Murad’s career took off. She made popular his compositions “Howa el dala’a ya’ani khessam” (Does dalyans mean to avoid me?) and “Hairana Leh Bein El-Eloub” (Why can’t you choose among lovers).
Murad’s music, as an actress, was closely intertwined with her films, and most of her popular songs were heard in the films in which she starred. In the period from the 1930s to the 1950s, she played in almost 30 films, including Hatem Suleiman and Shuhaddaa el Garam.
Born Amal Al Atrash in Syria, Asmahan immigrated to Egypt with her family when she was still a child. Together with her brother Mohammed Abdel Wahab, she was known for her musical prowess.
Possessing a powerful and at the same time mobile voice, Asmahan competed with Umm Katum in her singing talents. She was a young teenager when she made her debut at the Cairo Opera and released her first song “Ya Nar Fouadi”. Soon her wide vocal range and ability to use both Western and Arabic techniques were well known. Unfortunately, Asmahan’s career was not destined to be long. In 1944, a car accident claimed the singer’s life. She was only 25 years old.
Egyptian Najat al-Saghira grew up in a family full of artists. Her siblings were either singers, actresses, musicians, or artists. Al-Saghira herself made her film debut at the age of eight, and her singing career took off when she was a teenager.
Al-Saghira was especially known for her ability to sing long poems. It should be noted her song “Irja Ilia” (“Come back to Me”) from Nizar Kabbani’s poem. As one of the Egyptian singers of the golden age, her fame reached its peak in the 1950s and 60s. Although as-Saghira has released several films and albums, she was known primarily for her concert performances. She constantly delighted fans with her performances until her retirement in 2002.
Wadih El Safi
The next singer probably has one of the longest careers on our list. Wadih El Safi from Lebanon started his career in the late 1930s and lasted for about seven decades. An outstanding tenor with an impressive vocal range and abilities, El Safi was nicknamed the man with the Golden voice. He also became a pioneer of Lebanese folk music, learning to play the oud and rabab to be able to accompany his songs.
In the 1940s, El Safi moved to Brazil for several years. There he gained even more fans, mostly Lebanese, eager to hear nostalgic music from their homeland. The songs “We Are Coming” and “Lebanon, You Are a Piece of the Sky” are among his most popular works. El Safi continued to perform and collaborate with other Arab singers until his death in 2013. His contributions and legacy have given him legendary status.
Janet Gerges Feghali is best known as the Lebanese singer and actress Sabah. The name comes from the title of the first film in which she starred, El-Qalb Luh Wahid (“The Heart has Its Reasons”) in 1945. In parallel with acting, Sabah sang a lot. She was best known as a performer of traditional mawwals and collaborated with many famous Egyptian composers such as Mohammed Abdel Wahab.
During her career, Sabah has released almost 100 films, about 50 albums and more than 3,000 songs. The songs “Zay el-Assal” and “Akhadou el-Reeh” are among the most loved by her fans. Due to an illness that left her arm and leg paralyzed, Sabah retired in 2010. Four years later, she passed away. The singer was 87 years old.
Finally, we complete the list with the only singer from the United Arab Emirates – Ahlam Ali Al Shamsi. The singer, known as Ahlam, has achieved fame by performing at various concerts and festivals in the UAE, USA and Europe.
Known for her classical Arabic, pop and khaliji-style music, Ahlam has released 14 albums and numerous singles. Several appearances on television as a judge in the shows Arab Idol and The Voice also contributed to the growth of her popularity. Her latest album, Love of Your Eyes, was released in 2021, and Ahlam has no plans to slow down any time soon.
Summing up our list of great Arab performers
As you have already understood, Arab countries certainly do not lack talented singers. Despite the fact that their sound largely depends on traditional music, each of them is unique in its own way.
Their hard work and skill changed the face of music and influenced subsequent generations. Some of the legends have already passed away, but their legacy continues.
We hope you enjoyed our list of great Arab artists. However, this list is far from complete. Who have we missed, who should be here? Let us know and we’ll add them!