“Toha” Chanteuse of Egypt and Levant

Amira Noshokaty , Friday 5 Dec 2014

Ahram Online remembers Fathia Ahmed, music icon of early twentieth century Egypt and Levant, on the 39th anniversary of her death

Fatheya Ahmed among her

Five December is the death anniversary of Chanteuse of Egypt and Levant: Fathia Ahmed (1898-1975).

Often known among her fans as “Touha,” Fathia Ahmed came from a family with a musical background as she was the niece of Great Alma (traditional female singer and dancer that used to entertain in weddings) Bamba Kashar.

Fatheya Ahmed differnt stages of her life

Fathia and her other two sisters Ratiba and Mufida chose the path of singing for their careers. Unlike her sisters, Touha’s powerful voice made her shine and in a few years’ time she became an accredited celebrity who appeared on magazines covers in rotation with other music divas of her era such as: Monira El-Mahdeya and Om Kalthoum during the late twenties. Touha’s remarkable voice granted her a chance to sing with Egyptian classical music pillar Sayed Darwish, in his famous folk songs :Tele’t ya mahla norha and El helwa di amet te’gen.


She was known for the capacity to improvise and repeat a single verse over 100 different times. According to a radio segment by Frédéric Lagrange, cofounder and member of the Management Board of AMAR (Arab Music Archiving and Research Foundation), Touha specialised in singing poems and monologues.

Fatheya Ahmed on the cover of Radio Magazine

Ironically, the reasons for her fame where the same reasons that eventually led to her downfall with Lagrange stating that by the 50’s her techniques were too classic and the repetition of verses created redundancy rather than enchantment.  

Fatheya Ahmed co-starring Opera Aida with Om Kalthoum, Ibrahim Hamouda and Abdel Ghani El Said

Enchanted by her legacy nonetheless is Akram Rayess, cofounder of AMAR and researcher in ethnomusicology, who created a fan page to showcase her washed-out legacy. Rayess explained to Ahram Online that he started the fan page “because of her unique mastery of the mawal (classic Arabic music form of singing), her involvement in musical theater as well as her improvisation capacities.”

“And despite the fact that she sang almost all genres, there is a lot of injustice towards her legacy, no serious and comprehensive studies about her singing and art, not even an inventory of her songs,” lamented Rayess.

Fatheya Ahmed profile

Touha’s fan page beholds gems of rare records of her mesmerising voice, rare photos and a brief historical perspective of the era she represents. Like many of her peers, Fathia Ahmed’s stardom came to an end with modernity and change of audience taste that was influenced by the west. “Extended orchestra verses Takht (Classic form of Arabic music composition), composition verses improvisation, as well as the resistance of music business stakeholders to her style of singing, that no longer appealed to the public,” Rayess concluded.

Rare photos and records are courtesy of Rayess' Facebook page dedicated to Touha

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