The music of the Arabs is a diverse mix of genres and styles. Some regions have their own traditional sound, either sung in their own language, in the language of other regions, or English. Whatever it is, their songs are enriched by their culture and history.
Then we have the singers who have emerged from the Arab countries. With a mix of classic Arabic, Khaliji, folk, and pop sounds, they’ve become iconic not only in their country but also worldwide.
Thus in this post, let’s pay homage to these amazing talents. Read on to learn about 16 of the greatest and most famous Arabic singers.
1. Umm Kulthum
We begin this list with Umm Kulthum, one of the biggest influences on Arabic music. While alive, she was one of the most iconic Egyptian singer-songwriters and actresses.
Active from the 1940s to the 1960s, Kulthum’s repertoire was a mix of classical and Egyptian music. Notable songs from her are “Raqq Il-Habib” (The Lover’s Heart Softens) and “Al-Atlal” (The Ruins).
Kulthum was known for her impressive vocal control, creativity, emotional performances, and carefully managed public image. Her musical influence was known worldwide, with many international artists, like Bob Dylan, Bono, and Robert Plant, praising her work.
2. Farid Al-Atrash
Though born in Syria, Farid al-Atrash and his family immigrated to Egypt when he was still a child. He studied music and often sang at school events. Later on, he would apprentice under the Egyptian composer Riad al Sunbati.
Al-Atrash got his start making music on the radio during the 1930s. His unusual and compelling voice gave life to many an Arabic song about love, religion, and patriotism, like “Ya Zahratan Fi Khaialy” (Flower of My Imagination) and “Rabeeh” (Spring).
Most favorite among al-Atrash’s fans is his penchant for singing mawwāls during his live performances, sometimes lasting up to 15 minutes. The singer is also skilled in playing the oud, a fretless, pear-shaped Arabic musical instrument.
Nouhad Wadie’ Haddad, best known as Fairuz, is a Lebanese singer who was one of the leading Arabic singers in the world. Dubbed Soul of Lebanon, her public debut was on a national radio station in the 1940s.
From there, Fairuz’s career grew. She toured and performed all over the world and released many notable songs, like “Zahrat al-Mada’en” and “Habbaytak Bissayf.”
After more than 60 years of career, Fairuz accrued several awards, including the Jordanian Medal of Honor and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in France.
Fairuz is now retired, but she has released over 80 albums, more than a thousand songs and has participated in dozens of musicals.
4. Mohammed Abd El-Wahhab
Hailing from Egypt, Mohammed Abd el-Wahhab was a notable actor, singer, and composer active throughout most of the 20th century.
Waheb was also known for his ability to combine traditional Egyptian music with elements of Western sound, such as the waltz and rock. As a result, he helped to attract listeners from across the world.
A nationalist, Waheb also has a number of revolutionary songs. Notable of these are “El Watan El Akbar” (The Greatest Homeland) and “Ya Masr tam El-Hanna” (O Egypt, Happiness Is Here).
While many remember him primarily as a singer or actor, Wahab’s composition perhaps had the biggest impact on Arabic music. In fact, Libya’s national anthem was his composition.
5. Kadim Al Sahir
Kadim Jabbar Al Samarai, or Kadim al-Sahir, is an Iraqi singer known for classical, operatic pop, 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 won him a UNICEF award, and “Ahbeni.”
While Sahir’s music is sometimes a blend of different genres, he prefers to sing along with an orchestra of traditional Arabic instruments, like the oud, nay, and qanun, among others.
By 2022, Sahir had released more than 20 albums. He has toured all over the world and performed in major venues, like Royal Albert Hall in London and Beacon Theater in New York.
6. Nancy Ajram
Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram started young in her musical career. She was only 15 when she signed her first record deal. Now she is known for her numerous contributions to Arab pop, dance music, and Coca-Cola commercials.
Ajram’s breakthrough came with the release of “Akhasmak Ah” in 2002. She followed this up with several charting albums, like Ya Salam and Shakhbat Shakhabit. She has since released 12 studio albums and over 50 singles.
The singer is also the voice of some of Coca-Cola’s commercials consecutively from 2007 to 2014. She has also been a judge on numerous TV talent shows, including the Arab Idol and The Voice Kids.
7. Abdel Halim Hafez
Up next is Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez, whose height of popularity was in the 1960s and 1970s. Hafez studied music as a teenager. Later, he became a music teacher while singing in Egyptian clubs. Performing on live radio gained the attention he needed for his break.
It took a while, however, for his singing style to catch on, but eventually, Hafez became the first romantic singer of Egypt. Songs such as “Ahwak” (I Adore You),” “Gana El Hawa” (The Mood Struck Us), and “Zai El Hawa” (Like Love) are among his popular pieces.
Sadly, Hafez’s career was cut short by ill health. He passed away in 1997; however, his work by then had influenced many, including foreign artists. Elements of his song “Khosara” was used by Jay-Z in “Big Pimpin’.”
Modern Syrian singer Assala hit the Arabic music world with Law Ta’rafou in 1991. Because of its classic Egyptian tarab-style tracks, the album became a hit, particularly with the songs “Samehtak Ketir” and “Ya Sabra Yana.”
Since then, she has released almost 30 studio albums and numerous singles. In addition to Arabic music, Assala also blends her style with pop, arabesque, and Khaliji sounds.
Assala has also performed at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, singing “Right Where I’m Supposed to Be,” and hosts the TV program Soula.
Though born in Paris, Warda was of Lebanese and Algerian descent. Her father owned a cabaret called Tam-Tam, where many reputable singers, like Farid al-Atrash, performed; here, too, Warda had her first performance as a music artist.
During the Algerian war, she and her family moved to Beirut. Not to be deterred, Warda continued her singing career and eventually landed a spot in a pan-Arab opera singing “Al Watan Al Akbar.”
Known for her perfect intonation and powerful voice, Warda performed well into her late life, releasing over 300 songs. Her final performance was held in Lebanon just a year before her death in 2012, but to this day, she remains an iconic influence in Arab music.
10. Ehab Tawfik
Hailing from Cairo, Egypt, we have next modern singer Ehab Tawfik. Influenced by Abdel Wahab and Umm Kulthum at a young age, Tawfik would often sing at school events and learned to play the oud before he was 10.
After winning a local talent competition in 1989, Tawfik’s singing career started to gain momentum. Performing at a benefit concert for Gulf War victims in 2001 shot him to even greater fame.
Tawfik’s style, encompassing shabibi (a popular Egyptian genre) and the more traditional watani, has gained him many fans. “Sahrany” (She Enchanted Me), “Habibi” (My Darling), and “Hobbak Aliminni” (Your Love Taught Me) are among some of his more popular songs.
11. Layla Murad
Egyptian singer and actress Layla Murad came from a musical family. She started her career early, making her debut at age nine when she appeared on the stage at Saalat Badi’a.
With the help of Egyptian composer Dawood Hussnei, Mourad’s career rose. She made popular his compositions “Howa el dala’a ya’ani khessam” (Does Daliance Mean Avoiding Me?) and “Hairana Leh Bein El-Eloub” (Why Can’t You Choose from Among Lovers).
Also an actress, Mourad’s music was deeply intertwined with her films, with most of her popular songs coming from the films she starred in. Between the 1930s and 1950s, she had roles in almost 30 movies, including Khatem Suleiman and Shuhaddaa el Gharam.
Born Amal Al Atrash in Syria, Asmahan immigrated to Egypt with her family when she was still a child. She, along with her brother Mohammed Abdel Wahab, was known for their musical prowess.
With a powerful yet agile voice, Asmahan’s singing talents rival that of Umm Kathum. She was a young teenager when she debuted at the Cairo Opera House and released her first song, “Ya Nar Fouadi.” Soon, her broad vocal range and her ability to use both Western and Arabic techniques were well-known.
Sadly, Asmahan’s career was not destined to be a long one. In 1944, a car crash took the life of the singer. She was only 25.
13. Najat Al-Saghira
Egyptian Najat al-Saghira grew up in a family full of artists. Her siblings were either a singer, actress, musician, or painter. Al-Saghira herself made her debut in film at the age of eight and her singing career took off when she was a teenager.
Al-Saghira was particularly known for her ability to sing long poems. Of note is her song “Irja Ilyya” (Return to Me), from Nizar Qabbani’s poem. As one of the golden-age Egyptian singers, her fame was at its height during the 1950s and ’60s.
While al-Saghira did release several films and albums, she was primarily known for her live performances. She continuously wowed fans at her shows until her retirement in 2002.
14. Wadih El Safi
Our next singer probably has one of the longest careers on our list. From Lebanon, Wadih el Safi began near the end of the 1930s and lasted some seven decades.
A notable tenor with an impressive vocal range and ability, el Safi was dubbed the man with a golden voice. He also pioneered Lebanese folk music, learning to play the oud and rababa so he could accompany his songs.
During the 1940s, el Safi moved to Brazil for a few years. While there, he gained even more following, mostly Lebanese yearning to hear the nostalgic music from home. “We Are Coming” and “Lebanon, You Are a Piece of the Sky” are among his most popular pieces.
El Safi continued performing and collaborating with other Arab singers until his passing in 2013. His contributions and legacy ensured his legendary status.
Janet Gerges Feghali is best known as the Lebanese singer and actress Sabah. The name comes from the first movie she starred in, El-Qalb Luh Wahid (The Heart Has Its Reasons) in 1945.
Parallel to acting, Sabah sang extensively. She was best known for singing traditional mawwāls and collaborated with many well-known Egyptian composers, like Mohammed Abdel Wahab.
In her career, Sabah released almost 100 films, around 50 albums, and over 3,000 songs. “Zay el-Assal” and “Akhadou el-Reeh” are some of her fan favorites.
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.
Lastly, we close with the only singer from the United Arab Emirates on the list, Ahlam Ali Al Shamsi. Simply known as Ahlam, the singer rose to fame by performing at various concerts and festivals throughout the UAE, USA, and Europe.
Known for her classical Arabic, pop, and Khaliji music, Ahlam went on to release 14 albums and numerous singles. A few stints on TV as a judge for Arab Idol and The Voice also increased her popularity.
Her most recent album, Love of Your Eyes, came out in 2021, and Ahlam has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Arabic Singers
As you have read, the Arab nations certainly have no shortage of talented singers. Though their sounds strongly revolve around traditional music, each is unique in their own way.
Their hard work and skills changed the face of music and influenced the generations who followed. Some of the legends have passed on, but their legacy continues.
We hope you have enjoyed our list of great Arabic signers. However, this list is far from complete. Who have we left out that should be on here? Let us know, and we’ll add them for you!