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March 10, 2021

4 Things You Need to Know About Asmahan

The revolutionary Syrian singer Asmahan was one of the only singers in the region to have been considered significant competition for Umm Kulthum.

Her career was catapulted after a chance meeting between a then-teenage Asmahan and one of Egypt’s most famous composers Dawood Hosni, which in-turn led to a public concert at the prestigious Cairo Opera House at the mere age of fourteen. But as with most female artistic revolutionaries — her career was laden with controversy. Here are four things you need to know about Asmahan.

Asmahan married her cousin

In 1933, Asmahan’s cousin Hassan al-Atrash came to Cairo and asked for her hand in marriage, under one condition: that she abandons her musical career. She agreed. But on three (now-legendary) conditions: that they live in Damascus and not Egypt, they would winter in Cairo, and that she would never have to wear a hijab. 

She chose the arts over marriage

According to a study by Sherifa Zuhur entitled Asmahan’s Secrets: Art, Gender and Cultural Disputations, Asmahan declared the famous words: “ I stood with you for independence and liberation, I did. But, I was created for another purpose. I prefer the work of Farid, and the work of Umm Kulthum, and of art” upon her divorce. 

Asmahan became involved in war

With her aspirations climbing higher than her creative career, during World War II, Asmahan came back to the French Mandate of Syria and was sent on a secret mission to alert her people (in Jabal al-Druze) that the British and French would be invading. At one point, Asmahan even tried to contact the Nazis in Turkey (which was eventually foiled).

Creativity was her rebellion

Now-divorced and back in the creative field, Asmahan went on to revive her singing career, taking up acting in the process – much to the dismay of her family, who felt that her on-screen career disgraced the family. Reactions to her career choice back in Syria were even more extreme, with a man having drawn a gun when she first appeared on screen in the cinema.


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