When Mounira al-Mahdiyya began to sing publically in Egypt in 1893, she was said to be the first Arab woman to do so in the modern age. She was followed shortly after by Umm Kulthum. Since no women were allowed onstage prior to that, no female singing tradition existed yet at that time. Singing softly, or sweetly “like a girl”, was unheard of. Singing was something learned from male mashayikh (i.e. religious figures). If you ever hear
Umm Kulthum recite the Qur’an you will understand. This is no nightingale, this is not a lullaby, this is not Fairouz. Their voices had to be strong, assured, and dead precise in key and diction. They had to carry religious songs and qasa’id (i.e. epic poems) comfortably. They had to project across a wide space to reach an audience well before microphones could do the work.