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 during her spectacular live performances.
Even more remarkable than Natacha’s dance moves is her unmistakable voice, rich in nuance and grounded in Arabic music.
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 period in a Belgian salsa band called Mandanga. As she commuted between Northampton and Brussels, however, she began to attract the attention of the Balearic beat crew ¡Loca! and Jah Wobble, who was then assembling his Invaders of the Heart. Wobble was looking for an wide-ranging Middle Eastern singer and fell in love with her voice.
In 1991, both these projects became a reality. Timbal by ¡Loca! started out as a track on Nation Records’ Fuse Two compilation and became a massive dance club hit, while Wobble’s http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000007641/musidelmund-20/002-7906139-4219234?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2 | Rising Above Bedlam – five tracks which Natasha co-wrote – attracted much critical acclaim and a Mercury award nomination.
The success of Timbal consolidated Natacha’s relationship with the ground-breaking Nation Label, who introduced her to TransGlobal Underground (TGU), at that time enjoying Top 40 success with http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000DEO0/musidelmund-20/002-7906139-4219234?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2 | Templehead.
First guesting with TransGlobal Underground in 1991, Natacha became two years later a member of the core quartet of TransGlobal Underground, as lead singer and belly-dancer. A couple of years later, it was TransGlobal Underground’s Tim Whelan, Hamid ManTu and Nick Page (a.k.a. Count Dubulah, who helped her to make her first solo album, Diaspora.
Diaspora came out in the summer of 1995 to critical acclaim. Natacha combined the dubby, rhythmic-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 that genuinely fused West and East.
On her second LP, Halim, Natacha explored further her deeply felt affinity with Arabic musical heritage.
In parallel with the success of her solo albums she remained a full-time Transglobal Underground member, and Transglobal Underground composed her backing band, until they left Nation Records 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.
In 2000, Natacha released The Remix Collection, in which material from the first three albums was reworked by a variety of remixers, including Talvin Singh, Banco de Gaia, Youth, 16B, Klute, the Bullitnuts, TJ Rehmi, Spooky and Transglobal Underground.
Natacha’s fourth album Ayeshteni was released in 2001.
2002’s album, Natacha Atlas and Marc Eagleton Project’s Foretold in the Language of Dreams, was a considerable divergence. No beats; a calm recording, involving a slightly smaller group of musicians than normal, including Syrian qanun master Abdullah Chhadeh, whom Natacha married in 1999.
Aside 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 film The Truth About Charlie, and David Arnold’s film scores including Stargate and Die Another Day.
Natacha Atlas spent a lot of time in her father’s homeland, Egypt. There, she worked 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 injected Middle Eastern music into UK pop, pulling in dance music, rap, drum’n’bass, R&B, Hindi pop, film music and French chanson.
On Something Dangerous (2003), Atlas not only combined more styles than ever, but for the first time on an Atlas album it featured guest vocalists, and more singing in English than she did before. 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 Sinead 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 returned 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.
Diaspora (Beggars Banquet/MCA, 1995)
Halim (Beggars Banquet, 1998)
Gedida (Mantra/Beggars Banquet, 1999)
The Remix Collection (Mantra/Beggars Banquet, 2000)
Ayeshteni (Mantra/Beggars Banquet, 2001)
Foretold in the Language of Dreams (2002)
Something Dangerous (Mantra/Beggars Banquet, 2003)
Best of Natacha Atlas (Mantra/Beggars Banquet, 2003)
Mish Maoul (Mantra/Beggars Banquet MNTCD 1038, 2006)
Ana Hina (World Village, 2008)
Mounqaliba, In a State of Reversal (Six Degrees 657036 1170 2 0, 2010)
Mounqaliba – Rising: The Remixes (Six Degrees Records, 2011)
Expressions: Live in Toulouse (Mazeeka Music, 2013)
Myriad Road (Decca, 2015)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.