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Natacha Atlas - Ayeshteni

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Published on Jan 15, 2009

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Portrait of Natacha Atlas

A dancer, a singer and a composer, Natacha Atlas has no frontiers, as a woman and as an artist. Once, during a recent trip to Israel, she described herself as "a human Gaza strip". She was referring to the complex melange of influences - both genetic and environmental - that have shaped her both as an individual and as a performer.
The daughter of an English mother and a Sephardic Jew father, Atlas grew up in a Moroccan suburb of Brussels, becoming fluent in French, Arabic, Spanish and English. There she learned the "raqs sharki" belly dance techniques, that she uses to devastating effect on stage today, inflamming the audience. Even more striking than Natacha's dance moves, though, is her voice, which swoops and soars, blending unfettered talent and the complexity of Arabic musical theory into a burst of sound that is thrilling, immediate and evocative. Still, though, she recalls the Cocteau Twins' chanteuse Elizabeth Fraser and her oneiric vocalism. "She sings like a nightingale perched on a diamond chalice", the British music magazine Melody Maker wrote.

The Natacha's formula is the result of years of musical cross-over since she moved to England, as a teenager and became Northampton's first Arabic rock singer. Later, dividing her time between the UK and Brussels, she sang in a variety of Turkish and Arabic nightclub and spent a brief stint in Belgian salsa band called Mandanga. But the success arrived mainly owing to the collaboration to the English group Transglobal Underground she joined to as a lead singer and a belly dancer in many international festivals, such as Glastonbury and Womad, the world music happening by Peter Gabriel. All together they recorded two successful albums, Dream of 100 Nations and International Times.
She became a solo singer in her successive albums Diaspora and Halim and her sensual cross-over got admired all around the world. Afterwards, her music moved easily between classical Arab inflections and dance/dub rhythms.

The multi-ethnical album Gedida is the best synthesis of all that. It's a marvellous musical trip from North Africa to Europe, a new and explosive fusion between East and West. "It's a sort of 'Islamic pop', where the millenarian psalmodies of Arabian tradition are melted with the metropolitan rhyhtm-machines, where the traditional instruments like oud, bouzouki, tablas, dulcimer, riqq, and bendir take turns with the 'scratch' of the most daring British deejays". In this Babele of sounds and languages, you can find jewels like the single "Mistaneek", a wonderful fusion between dance rhythms and Middle-Eastern sounds, or the French-Arabic ballad "Mon Amie La Rose", a cover of the delicate song performed by Françoise Hardy more than thirty years ago. The tracks of "Gedida" are lovely ballads about love, feelings and eternal emotions.

The little Natacha - 156 centimetres heels included, wonderful green eyes and Junoesque body as every "belly dancer" - has a clear view of her musical style: "Somebody called it "new raï", linking it with the music of Khaled, Cheb Mami, Rachid Taha e Bellemou Messaoud: but I totally disagree", she said. "I feel more close to an Egyptian style. That's why I spend all my free time in Cairo in order to improve my knowledge of the Egyptian language and music. That's why my main influences are the great singers of the Egyptian tradition before the 'shaabi'. And all these people could easily interact with my Western "monstre sacré": Sinead O'Connor, Asian Dub Foundantion and, above all, Björk, a chanteuse that I would like to collaborate with in a few time".

The latest work of this extraordinary singer and dancer is called Ayeshteni. It's another cross-over between East and West on the style of "Gedida", with some daring experiments - a cover of the Screamin' Jay Hawkins's classic "I put the spell on you" - and a homage to Jacques Brel with "Ne me quitte pas". In the meantime, Natacha Atlas has become one of the most requested vocalist of the international scene, as her collaboration to the latest Franco Battiato's album ("Ferro Battuto") confirmed. But her greatest desire is to spread her music also in Egypt where, though the recent changes, "these kind of matters are still forbidden".

Foretold In The Language Of Dreams (2002) is a collaboration with Marc Eagleton.

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