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During the 1930s, her repertoire took the first of several specific stylistic directions. Her songs were virtuosic, as befit her newly trained and very capable voice, and romantic and modern in musical style, feeding the prevailing currents in Egyptian popular culture of the time. She worked extensively with texts by romantic poet Ahmad Rami and composer Mohammad El-Qasabgi, whose songs incorporated European instruments such as the violoncello and double bass, as well as harmony.

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Umm Kulthum was born in the village of Tamay ez-Zahayra belonging to the city of El Senbellawein, Dakahlia Governorate, in the Nile Delta. Her birth date is unconfirmed, as birth registration was not enforced throughout the Arab world in that era.

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