on 1 July 2008
As a German living in the Middle East - Gulf region: Oman, Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Quatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, ... - I truly do appreciate the music from that area. The rhythm is always mystical and very highly personal. You can feel the instruments and the musical tones which the artist wants you to feel. The musician wants to take you on a trip. They want to take you to a world unlike any other. And in this album, the very popular female singer NATASHA ATLAS manages to do just that.
..... A Portrait: NATACHA ATLAS
Natacha Atlas (born March 20, 1964) is a Belgian singer known for her fusion of Arabic and North African music with Western electronic music. She once termed her music "cha'abi moderne". Her music has been influenced by many styles including Arabesque music, drum 'n' bass and reggae.
Atlas, the lead singer in Transglobal Underground and solo artist, uses her multi-ethnic background when singing lyrics a hybrid of culture and the Arabic world. She personally calls herself a "human Gaza Strip," reflecting her diverse background and thoughts relating to the Muslim and Jewish world. For example, her lyrics say "Why are we fighting/When we're all together/Let's return to peace/Let's make peace, we are brothers" (from her song "Laysh Nata'arak"). In her music, Atlas makes many political statements regarding Islam and Judaism and often takes a middle ground approach advocating for peace and harmony. Moreover, she personally considers herself a Muslim and phrases from the Quran are intertwined in her lyrics. Even her fan website reflects Atlas's personal identification with Egypt and the Arabic culture. During an interview with Muslim Wake Up! Online magazine, Atlas talks about her identification with her European and Arabic roots by saying "There will always be two identities living within me: Arabic and European. When I was very young, I tried to ignore the Arabic side, my father's side, because I saw it as foreign. But something happened in my late teens. I was at a nightclub in Brussels and I heard Arabic music, and I knew then that there was something inside of me that I wanted to go back to. So I ended up going to the other extreme. But as you mature, you realize that you have both inside you. That's how God made me. These days I dream in two languages, and not a day goes by when I don't end up using Arabic" In 2001, Atlas was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Conference Against Racism.
It's all about roots, really. If you don't know where you come from, and explore that, then you're pretty much just drifting into the future. Natacha Atlas, who's recorded with Jah Wobble and been a vital part of Transglobal Underground, knows all about roots. Understanding her Egyptian ancestry and her place in the world - she lives in London - has been the stuff of her three solo albums. On the most recent, Gedida (the Arabic word for new), she's really brought all her past into focus, balancing all the elements to give something that's, well....new. The past meets the present and creates something rather thrilling, and decidedly more organic.
"I like to augment music with technology, because I think it's good to be in the here and now."
"I suppose it was a natural thing," she explains. "I was never a techno kind of person. But I like to augment music with technology, because I think it's good to be in the here and now. You have to represent this time and age, but that's the extent of it. I don't even know how to use a sampler."
Natacha Atlas released her first solo LP, Diaspora, in the summer of '95, and in time honored fashion, the critics scrambled for superlatives. The LP saw Natacha combining the dubby, beat-driven global dance of her longtime associates TransGlobal Underground, with the more traditional work of Arabic musicians like Tunisian singer-songwriter Walid Rouissi and Egyptian composer and ud-master Essam Rashad. The result was a collection of songs of love and yearning which genuinely fused West and East. Her second LP, Halim, sees Natacha exploring further her deeply felt affinity with Arabic musical heritage.
Natacha Atlas was born in Belgium, the daughter of an Egyptian father and an English mother. Natacha grew up in the Moroccan suburbs of Brussels, becoming fluent in French, Spanish, Arabic and English, immersing herself in Arabic culture, Egyptian "shaabi" pop and learning from childhood the raks sharki - belly dance - techniques that she uses to devastating effect on stage today. Even more striking than Natacha's dance moves, though, is her voice, which swoops and soars, blending unfettered talent and the complexities of Arabic musical theory into a burst of sound that is thrilling, immediate and evocative.
Natacha moved to England as a teenager and became Northampton's first Arabic rock singer. Since then has involved herself in a wide variety of musical projects. Dividing her time between the UK and Brussels, she sang in a variety of Arabic and Turkish nightclubs, and spent a brief stint in a Belgian salsa band called Mandanga. As she shuttled between Northampton and Brussels, however, she began to attract the attention of the Balearic beat crew ¡Loca! and Jah Wobble, then assembling his Invaders of the Heart. Wobble was looking for an eclectic Middle Eastern singer and fell in love with her voice.
In '91, both these projects bore fruit. Timbal by ¡Loca! started out as a track on Nation Records' Fuse Two compilation and became a massive club hit, while Wobble's Rising Above Bedlam - five tracks which Natasha co-wrote - attracted much critical acclaim and a Mercury award nomination. The success of Timbal cemented Natacha's relationship with the ground-breaking Nation Label, who introduced her to TransGlobal Underground (TGU), at that time enjoying Top 40 success with the anthemic Templehead.
First guesting with them in 1991, she became, two years, later, a member of the core quartet of Transglobal, as lead singer and belly-dancer (the latter not some kind of limp tourist-pleasing wiggle but the real raq sharki). A couple of years later, it was the band's Tim Whelan, Hamid ManTu and Nick Page (a.k.a. Count Dubulah, now of Temple of Sound) who helped her to make her first solo album, Diaspora.
In parallel with the success of her solo albums she remained a full-time TransGlobal member, and TransGlobal constituted her backing band, until they left Nation in 1999, and they have remained allies throughout her subsequent career. Atlas has appeared on most TGU albums and its members are usually involved in the production of her solo albums.
Diaspora was released (in the UK by Beggars Banquet/Mantra, as are all her albums) in 1995. It combined the dubby, beat-driven global dance approach of TransGlobal with the more traditional work of Arabic musicians, and the result was a critically acclaimed collection of songs of love and yearning.
1997's Halim followed, and then Gedida in 1999 , both intelligently and naturally fusing Middle Eastern and European styles, and delighting an ever-increasing audience in both territories.
2000 saw the release of The Remix Collection, in which material from the first three albums was given the treatment by a variety of remixers, including Talvin Singh, Banco de Gaia, Youth, 16B, Klute, the Bullitnuts, TJ Rehmi, Spooky and TransGlobal.
Natacha's fourth album Ayeshteni was released in 2001. It bears, as its only English-language song, a particularly splendid example of how this singer can take on a classic and cast new light and excitement on it - a mighty rendering of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You."
2002's album, The Natacha Atlas and Marc Eagleton Project's Foretold in the Language of Dreams, was a considerable departure. No beats; a calm, shimmering album, involving a slightly smaller cast than usual, including Syrian qanun master Abdullah Chhadeh, whom Natacha married in 1999.
Apart from her own projects, Natacha remains very much in demand as a guest singer for the recordings and performances of a remarkably wide range of musicians, including Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook, the Indigo Girls, FunDaMental, Ghostland, Abdel Ali Slimani, Toires, !Loca, Musafir, Sawt El Atlas, Franco Battiato, Juno Reactor, Dhol Foundation, Jah Wobble, Jaz Coleman, Apache Indian (on his chart hit Arranged Marriage), Mick Karn, Jean-Michel Jarre's Millennium Night spectacular at the Pyramids, Jonathan Demme's new film The Truth About Charlie, and David Arnold's film scores including Stargate and Die Another Day.
The success of her earlier work, both in the Middle East and in the West, including a top ten hit in France, has shown just how alluring a musical bridging of the divide can be; the exotic Arabic scales, rhythms and textures open up new horizons for 4/4-entrapped western pop and create possibilities for the enormous and varied Middle Eastern music scene to communicate outside itself.
For a while, at least, there were signs of that happening in France when, alongside crossover success for Rai singer Khaled and others, Natacha Atlas had a top ten hit with her Arabicised version of Mon Amie La Rose, and won Best Female Singer at the Victoire de la Musique Awards.
Natacha Atlas has been spending more and more time in her father's homeland, Egypt. There, she works with members of TransGlobal Underground and Egyptian musicians. Her album, Ayeshteni, was recorded and composed there.
In 2003, she released Something Dangerous, a solo album of contrasts and collaborations, in which she zips Middle Eastern music straight to the heart of current UK pop, pulling in as she does so dance music, rap, drum'n'bass, RandB, Hindi pop, film music and French chanson.
On Something Dangerous (2003), Atlas not only combines more styles than ever, but for the first time on an Atlas album it features guest vocalists, and a great deal more singing in English than she's done before. But it's no abandonment of Arabic; she embraces and combines the two languages, as well as Hindi and French. There is a collaboration with English composer Jocelyn Pook (who, among other things, created the score for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut), it has Atlas' Arabic vocal lushly surrounded by Pook's western classical orchestration for the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Another guest is West Indian Princess Julianna, whom Atlas met when they were both guesting with Temple of Sound.
On the Arabic side, Atlas used Abdullah Chhadeh and one of Egypt's finest shaabi trumpet players, the late Sami El Babli (deceased in a car crash shortly after the recording), to whom the track is dedicated. Atlas and Sinéad O'Connor, who last recorded together on John Reynolds', Justin Adams' and Caroline Dale's 2002 Ghostland album, trade aphorisms in 'Simple Heart".
With Mish Maoul (MNTCD 1038), released in April 2006, Atlas' career came full circle to touch base with her roots. The new album harked back in its sound and traditions to the music she grew up hearing in the Moroccan suburb of Brussels, particularly when the Golden Sound Studio Orchestra of Cairo makes its entrance. It also reunited her again with Temple of Sound's Nick Page (aka Count Dubulah), with whom she first worked in TransGlobal Underground and who helped produce her very first solo album Diaspora.