Alf Layla wa Layla is one of the most well-known songs by Um Kultum, and one of the most famous belly dance songs of all time. Do you know what it means?
The song Alf Layla wa Layla is ubiquitous both in the belly dance community and in the Arab world. Originally sung by Um Kulthum, this immortal classic has crossed language barriers and won the hearts of people all over the world. It is considered by some to be one of the best recordings ever made in music history.
Since you've clicked on this article I assume you're already familiar with this song, so let's dig a little deeper into its background and meaning.
Composer, Lyricist & Singer
Alf Layla wa Layla (also spelled Alf Leilah wa Leilah, Alf Leila wa Leila, Alf Leyla wa Leyla, Alf Lela Wlela, among other variations) was composed in 1969 by Baligh Hamdi, a prominent Egyptian composer in the 1960's and 70's, written by Egyptian poet Morsi Jamil Aziz and sung by the legendary singer Um Kultum.
Um Kulthum (1904? - 1975)
Born "Fatima Ibrahim as-Sayed El-Beltagi" in Egypt, Um Kulthum was a poor girl from a rural town who grew up to become the most well-known Arab singer of her time, which she remains so to this date, even 45 years after her death.
Due to her incredible vocal ability, style and fame she was given the title of "Star of the East." Her funeral in 1975 was attended by over 4 million Egyptians, and her music is still heard and recognized by Arabs all over the Middle East and around the world. Many of the most popular belly dance songs we hear today were originally sung by her.
A Thousand and One Nights
Alf Layla wa Layla means 1001 Nights, and it is one of Um Kulthum's most enduring songs. Here is a small piece of it translated, so you can understand its meaning:
The night and the sky, and its stars and its moon
Its moon and its night-time liveliness, and you and I
Oh beloved, oh my life
All of us, all of us experience love equally
And love, how heart-aching it can be
Love, how heart-aching it can be
Love stays up with us to shower us with bliss
And it says serenely to us
Oh beloved, come let us dwell in the eyes of the night
Come let us dwell in the eyes of the night
And we'd say to the sun: come out, come out
But only after a year from now
And not before a year has passed
For this is a beautiful night of love
Worth a thousand and one nights more
For what is a lifetime but a sole night just like tonight, just like tonight
Tonight, just like tonight
If you'd like a more complete translation, I highly recommend the 100 Songs Initiative video translation below, which includes the original words in Arabic as they are spoken, along with the transliteration and translation in English.
The original recordings of Um Kulthum's music are typically 30-80 minutes long and are not meant to be danced to. However, they are still wonderful for us as belly dancers to listen to so that we can gain more appreciation and understanding for the music.
For dance performances, we typically use much shorter and more modern renditions of the original classic compositions, and they can be purely instrumental or feature a vocalist. You can listen to a few of my favorite recordings of Alf Layla wa Layla below.
Full Length Alf Layla wa Layla Sung by Om Kulthum
Instrumental Version, Alf Layla va Laylah by Samir
Instrumental Version, Alf Leyla Wa Leyla by Aziza
Alf Leyla We Leyla as Sung by Sherine
Do you love Alf Layla wa Layla? What version is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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