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Baker's Dozen

Want 13: Rufus Wainwright's Favourite Music
Barnaby Smith , March 11th, 2020 13:32

Ahead of the release of his new album Rufus Wainwright guides Barnaby Smith through his favourite music, from Leonard Cohen to Eurythmics and his abiding love of opera


Oum Kalsoum - The Best Of Oum Kalsoum
Around the time of Poses, which is 2001, and a bit earlier, I discovered Oum Kalsoum. The song itself, 'Poses' is based on her kind of vocal sensibility; the end of the choruses [he sings 'Poses'] is this Egyptian moment. I didn't rip it off – I was just influenced by her. I would say that arguably of all the singers on this list – and we're talking some heavy hitters with Caballé, Domingo and Callas – I think she would probably 'win', in terms of the voice. She sang for a long time, and is basically to this day considered the greatest Middle Eastern singer that ever lived. And she only performed in the Middle East – I think she did one concert in Paris and that was the only time she ever sang in the Western world. There's just stuff she could do with her voice which is just mind-boggling, and also soulful at the same time. It's very sacred. I don't know if she's a religious singer per se, but it's obviously in the music she sings. It's traditional so I guess it's religious. There's a sacred quality to it that is pretty frightening, but also beautiful at the same time.

She was also a real character, and not a nice person. She dominated the scene for her entire career and no one else was allowed to eclipse her. In fact, there's some story where some young beautiful singer started to become well known, and she very quickly and mysteriously died in a car crash.