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Interview with Saharawi Singer Mariem Hassan

Mariem Hassan
Mariem Hassan expresses herself naturally in Hassania, the language of the Saharawis, but has serious difficulties with Spanish. That’s why she has rarely agreed to be interviewed. This is why this interview, reproduced from a long encounter with Carmelo Lattassa, has double value.

“We have our language (Hassania, closely related to the Berbers of Mauritania). The Mauritanians have the same music that we do but ours is more modern. They have the haul (aboriginal rhythm and form) as we do. Our songs are different because we talk of our problems since we fled from the Sahara, songs of the
children crying because their fathers went to war and never came back. They talk about the women whose husbands and fathers went to war, never to return, they talk about the deaths, of life, of politics, of god, of our land to which we hope to return. 

I have a song about my brothers. It’s called “Tus Ojos Lloran” (Your Eyes Cry) and talks about my brothers and my father. One afternoon, in a rehearsal, a friend of mine came. She called me away to tell me that my brothers were dead. So, I cried and after that I started to sing. When I wrote the song, I thought of my brothers, in the time we lived in the Sahara, climbing the mountain with them, entering our jaima with them, talking with them, living with them, and I ask myself “where are they?After the Spaniards abandoned the Saharawi colony, the Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco and Mauritania. The Saharawi people fled to Algerian lands and founded the S.D.A.R. (Saharawi Democratic Arab Republic, recognized by 76 countries). 

The Mauritanian perseverance ceased, but even today, we are waiting for a referendum on the land, occupied by the Moroccan government. The Saharawis confronted the military occupation, but the Moroccan army superiority brought many deaths to the Saharawis.

When I have problems, I say: “Mulana (God), help me.” Life is like that. If someone has problems, if someone is ill, someone is dead, someone lives well, someone lives badly, someone has problems with his family, his government, his work, life goes on. For example, if my husband died, did I die too? No, I have
to think about how I should live and how my children are going to live in the future. That’s how it is.

You, the Westerners, have walls to hang your portraits. We, instead, live in cloth tents. When it rains, the water gets in the tent and wets the mats and everything. When it is cold, it’s really cold. (In the desert, temperatures can reach below freezing point.) Most of the people have nothing to heat the tents with. When it’s hot, it can reach over 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) and that makes life really hard.

We cook all the dry foods: lentils, beans, and things like that because they last longer. Then we go to the wells to look for the water to cook it. The water is really salty, but that’s what there is. We make the bread, the food and everything with the hands and we all live inside the jaimas, the mother, the father, the children and the one who comes to visit.

When I started to compose, I didn’t have an instrument with me, only a drum. Before, we sat in circles and sang for ourselves but each year we do more things. We go out and do it differently. Now we gather Shueta, Mudleila (Saharawi singers) and me, together with two guitar players and compose. But when I’m alone, I compose only with a drum. I do the lyrics and then the music, like this, until the song comes out. Sometimes it works well, sometimes badly, like this. I only write the lyrics. The music is by heart.

A poet sees a woman, and describes her and makes a poem, but I don’t, I do things singing. Before the war, we did songs of love and beautiful things but the war and the lack of our land made us talk of more important things about the kids, the martyrs, the war.

The haul has really strict rules of memory and interpretation. The contemporary singers usually write the lyrics but the rest of it is still being done in the old way. The accompaniment is with the tebal, a drum of about 60 centimeters in diameter, made of a dug out wooden bowl and leather from the skin of a camel or goat. It is played with the hands, almost exclusively by women, producing a dry and deep sound at the same time.

From its origin, they used the tidinit, an instrument of dug out wood and a leather lid, similar to a four-stringed guitar. Since some time ago, the guitar is used in the songs because of its harmonic richness. It’s interpreted from the forms of the tidinitthat’s why it sounds so different and is especially difficult for the Westerner, accustomed to the classical guitar.

When I sing for someone different than my people, I feel happy, always happy. And when the audience applauds, I do it better, with more joy. I was married two times. My first husband didn’t want me to sing or to do these cultural things. When I got married, it was in the old way he talks with my family, my brothers, but
not with me. I gave him three sons but I didn’t like his attitude. He didn’t like me to do anything, neither singing, nor working in the wilaya, so I told him that I couldn’t continue this way. Then, he signed a letter saying that he released me because the woman cannot separate from the men by Islamic law (Sharia).

But I chose my present husband first ,you have to build the love and then the rest. We participate in everything the men do because our Islam is easy, it’s not an imposed Islam. I travel many time out of the wilaya, to different countries and my husband sees it as normal. When I return I go back to my other work, as a nurse. I always think of returning to the occupied Sahara. I only think of return.

The interview with Carmelo Lattassa ends with this illustration:

Mariem’s Spanish is simple and limited. She had great difficulties to answer the questions. When she was asked for the first time if she found poetry in everyday life, she answered, “When I’m in the camps, I get up at seven and get the children ready for school. Sometimes I leave the lentils in the kitchen and ask
my neighbor to take care of them. Then I go to work, and when I return, I find the kitchen burnt.  Then, I do couscous, I do rice, preserves with milk…”

Courtesy of Nubenegra. Translated by José Ocaña and Tess Mangum-Ocaña. Edited by Angel Romero

jaima is a large desert tent. Pronounced ha-ee-mah

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Drop the Debt…and Dance!

Drop the Debt
Drop the Debt (Say It Loud! / World Village 479008, 2003) 

The problems following the invasion of Iraq seem to have awakened the Bush administration from a slumber on the need for debt relief (We’re shocked! Shocked!). But the problem of developing-world debt has long been on the mind of others, including the Jubilee organization. Imagine paying 38% of your income just to service your debt. But don’t get me started; we’re here to talk about the music of debt.

Yes, the issue now has an all-star soundtrack, thanks to the efforts of new indie label Say It Loud. Featuring a stellar lineup of musicians (most from Africa and Latin America), Drop the Debt is simply great listening. And even if you’re an amazing polyglot (songs come from 14 different nationalities), you won’t feel like anyone’s hitting you over the head with a guilt skillet. The closest thing to an anti-debt anthem is "The Third World Cries Everyday," a richly orchestrated, mostly-English song by Africa South, an amazing constellation of musicians including Oliver Mtukudzi, Louis Mhlanga, Suthukazi Arosi, Khululiwe Sithole.

The rest of the CD is even better. It kicks off with the deep reggae mood of "Baba" by the combined forces of Tiken Jah Fakoly (Ivory Coast) and Tribo de Jah (Brazil). Brazilian vocalist Chico Cesar shows just how fast and percussive Portuguese can be sung on the folksy "Il faut payer (devo e não nego)," a collaboration with the Fabulous Trobadors of France. Bringing in Latin sounds is "Cosas pa’ pensar" by Colombia’s Toto La Momposina with a fabulous horn section. Cameroon’s Sally Nyolo combines with Shingo2 of Japan for the drum-and-voice tune "Tilma (remix)." Like turntablism? You’ll dig French group Massilia Sound System’s "Osca Sankara." If funk is your thing, "Argent trop cher (money’s too expensive)" by Tarace Boulba of France and Ablaye Mbaye of Senegal will definitely help you get a groove on.

Lyrically, the CD stays on topic, though each song highlights a different aspect of the debt burden. The translations give a sense of the widespread problems. Senegal’s El Hadj N’Diaye sings "For 40 years we’ve been repaying / A debt that endlessly grows / … We even say we’ll never be able to pay it back / That it’s planned that way." Zedess (Burkina Faso) sings "Even a democratic president / Who wants to lead his country out of poverty / Comes up against the policies of the technocrats / Who decide the priorities."

Massilia Sound System’s "Osca Sankara" includes samples of a speech given on debt relief by Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara, shortly before his assassination in a coup. Other songs take a more personal look. Tiken Jah Fakoly and Tribo de Jah’s "Baba" laments a farmer who works hard but realizes no profit when the harvest is in. Congolese artists Faya Tess & Lokua Kanza look to the future in "Bana": "This land belongs to our children / It’s in their name that we demande the debt be canceled / and the accounts revised…."

This is a great CD that just happens to champion a great cause as well. All the tracks are exclusive to this release, and with a variety of styles and consistently high energy it’s bound to have wide musical appeal. Get it as a wide-ranging survey of contemporary world music or as a political statement. But get it.

Okay, just one last word on selective debt relief. Read this statement from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and ask yourself why they and "President" Bush aren’t including Senegal, Burkina Faso, Columbia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, and other poor countries in their push for debt relief. Just substitute one of those countries for "Iraq" and see if it fits as well: "If Iraq’s debts are not forgiven, the Iraqi people will be financially crippled for a generation, or even generations, eliminating any prospect of a growing and prosperous Iraq. If European and Arab leaders truly want to help the people of Iraq, the best way to demonstrate this would be by easing the debt burden."

For more on debt relief, see:

www.jubileeusa.org
www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/B579907.htm
www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk
debtweek.org

(c) 2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Buy Drop the Debt.

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Ancient and Modern

Various Artists

The Rough Guide To The Music Of Pakistan (World Music Network RGNET 1116CD, 2003)

This comparatively young country has musical roots and traditions that go back hundreds of years taking in Sufi songs and the classical ghazal whilst also embracing sounds that come from modern film music and pop. This cd, like many of the Rough Guides, offers a very worthwhile taster.

Going back to the older traditions of Sufi poets, Pathane Khan, with minimal accompaniment, praises his master in the words of Punjabi mystic poet Kwadja Farid. This is a fine start to the album, solemn but uplifting. In a stronger rhythmic style Abida Parween also draws on Sufi song, combining two in one on Yaar Di Gharoli. Again the devotional content is central and the live context of the performance adds to the immediacy and passion as she delivers her message. The ghazal form has several airings on the cd and the one I find most moving is by Farida Khanum. She has a very deliberate way of conveying the song’s meaning, restrained and intimate, her plea for a lover to linger is convincing, even though I have no knowledge of the language she uses.

A transcendent experience, perhaps. A male ghazal singer, Medhi Hassan, also makes a strong impression. He is joined by tabla and sarangi for his version of Thumri In Raag Desh, which tells of the pain suffered in separation. His voice and sarangi echo each other in the melody’s undulations.

There are also examples of purely instrumental music whose fairly prosaic titles belie their beauty and elegance. My favourite is from Sultan Muhammed Channe & Shah Wali. Traditional Pashtoun Song – that’s the title – showcases the rahab, a four string lute that has a peculiar resonance, at times like the oud but often more like a banjo.

Of contemporary sounds Vital Signs are probably the most pop orientated though Sajad Ali and Faakhir also display Western influences alongside more traditional/classical roots.

No compilation of this sort would be complete without the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Aj Rang Hai Hai Maa takes us right back to the beginning, well at least 700 years, having been composed by qawwali’s founder, Hazrat Amir Khusrau. It is sung with the typical exuberance and celebration we expect from the great man. His voice takes off on an unimpeded lyrical flight leaving me, at any rate, with a sense of both joy and loss. It is a fitting end to a varied and vibrant selection.

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Musicport Festival

TransGlobal Underground
TransGlobal Underground
Whitby, North Yorkshire,England – Trans-Global Underground, Ensemble Kaboul, Martin Simpson & 40 other acts will be performing at Musicport, October 24th-26th, 2003. The festival is held annually in Whitby (North Yorkshire, England).

Musicport is a celebration of music and dance from different cultures around the globe. Now in it’s 4th year it is becoming a major international showcase for the top acts in the field of World Music & dance as well as proving a wonderfully magical & enjoyable event for all the family. Set against the backdrop of Whitby the festival pays homage to the town’s seafaring connections with the wider world.

Acts that have appeared in previous years include Misty in Roots, Osibisa, Labi Siffre, Kanda Bongo Man, Los De Abajo, Vera Bila & Waterson Carthy. Musicport is a not for profit community business with funding from Arts Council Yorkshire, Yorkshire Forward, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, PRS Foundation & Scarborough Borough Council

The Festival mainly happens in one venue – Whitby Pavilion Complex-with a capacity of 1000 in the main hall 500 in the theatre and 300 in the exhibition hall. Catering is provided both in the Pavilion café and by ethnic food vans just outside the main entrance.

The concerts take place Friday 24th – Sunday 26th October. The festival starts at 6.30pm on Friday and goes on until early hours Sat am. It starts again around 10.30am Saturday finishing 2am Sunday morning. Starts again 11am Sunday morning and finally finishes 11pm Sunday. The organizers try not to overlap acts on the two main stages so people don’t have to miss anything on these stages. There will be an added extra this year as the clocks go back on the Sunday morning .

Who?
In total there will be over 40 acts on the main stages including:

Trans-Global Underground as headline act for this year’s festival.

Ustad Mahwash & Ensemble Kaboul (Afghanistan) winners of BBC Radio3 2003 World Music Award Best Asia Act.The band that kept the music of Afghanistan alive
through the dark years.

Kékélé (Congo), Congolese veteran rumba band often described as Buena Vista Social Club of Africa.

The Bisserov Sisters(Bulgaria), celebrating 25 years of thrilling audiences world wide.

Ali Slimani Band (Algeria), Wonderful Rai band fronted by ex Invaders of The Heart lead singer.

Go.Lem System (Argentina/Spain) Manu Chao’s sometimes backing band on exclusive trip from Barcelona to UK for Musicport.
The Dhol Foundation with Johnny Kalsi (Punjab/UK),Afro Celt System drummer & fantastic band who were sensational at Musicport 2001.

Mighty Zulu Nation (South Africa) , Dance and song from great South African troupe.

Shiva Nova (India/UK), jazz meets classical meets ambient.

Charanga Del Norte (Cuba/UK) wonderful salsa band and Musicport veterans.

Lion Train (Jamaica/UK), music in the spirit of Bob Marley and great live show.
Ben Melo Band (Senegal),On their first trip to Uk. The band who often support
Youssou N’Dour in Senegal

Téa & Mirella (Bosnia),wild & haunting gypsy music

Julie Murphy Dylan Fowler & Danny Thompson (Wales),One of the finest singers in UK joined by great guitarist & legendary double bass player.

Martin Simpson & Spencer Bohren (USA/UK), Martin winner of Radio 2 awards 2002 for best album & best instrumentalist with Spencer great gospel singer /
guitarist from New Orleans.
Talisman (Russia), First UK appearance for incredible gypsy trio.

Modeste Hugues (Madagascar) highly rated singer songwriter.
Davide Sanna (Sardinia). “The Mediterranean Bob Dylan”.

Robert Maseko & Congobeat- Musicport favourite with new line-up and great new
songs.

Eduardo Niebla (Spain) stunning flamenco guitarist.

Rajan Spolia (India) India guitar and tabla

Bombay Baja – Bollywood brass ensemble

Nick Burman – one of the great didg players

The Old Rope String Band- Musical &Magical mayhem

Tuup the world renowned storyteller will perform the official opening.

Late night DJ sets and venue decor from locally based artists Cloudbase

There will be an adult workshop programme running throughout the weekend and
numerous stalls selling musical instruments, crafts etc as well as information
stalls on issues of global interest.
An adult weekend ticket (which is non-transferable) entitles you to free access
to all events within the festival.

Full weekend tickets are £45 until 30th July when they go up to £59
(£47)
unwaged) Tickets for children over 10 are half the adult price. Children under
10 are free
Family tickets, day tickets and sessional tickets are also available (Contact festival office for detail)
Although under 10s have free entry to the main Festival there is a
separate sessional charge for the children’s festival events (around £2 for 3
hour session). There will be a range of artists working specifically on the
children’s festival stage performing and running workshops. The children’s
stage will be organised and supervised by InterActive a local charity who run
holiday playschemes in the Whitby area .

There is a free access venue at the Resolution Hotel, Skinner Street with a separate program of mainly acoustic artists and featuring some main
stage artists as well.

Contact numbers Jim McLaughlin @ Musicport Office 44(0)1947 603475
Fax 01947 603509

info@whitbymusicport.com

[Photo caption: TransGlobal Underground]

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Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa Dies at 77

Celia Cruz
New Jersey, USA – Celia Cruz, the most popular salsa singer, died from cancer this afternoon at 5 p.m. EST at her home in New Jersey, with her husband, trumpet player Pedro Knight, and family friends, by her side.

Celia Cruz had been in a coma since Tuesday, July 15.

On December 5th of 2002, the 77 year old singer, was hospitalized in New York. She underwent surgery to alleviate a brain injury that affected her nervous system. Celia Cruz was released a week later. Her physician advised her to take 2-3 months to rest and limit all of her engagements during that time.

Celia Cruz was known as the Guarachera de Cuba. A native of Cuba, Cruz was the legendary queen of salsa. Her more than 50 CDs showcased her talent, intensity and determination. Cruz’s fans reach over four generations breaking down racial and cultural barriers. She collaborated with an eclectic group of musicians, ranging from Puerto Rican salsa and Latin jazz celebrity Tito Puente to pop star David Byrne.

In a field so powerfully dominated by male singers and musicians alike, Celia Cruz won global recognition, numerous tributes, a Yale University doctorate, the admiration of her peers, a Hollywood star, a Grammy, a statue in the famous Hollywood wax museum, movie and theater appearances, the key to numerous cities, and the key to the hearts of music lovers everywhere.

Read more about Celia Cruz and her discography.

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Six Degrees Releases Traveler ’03

Traveler ’03
San Francisco, USA – The next edition of the acclaimed Traveler series, Traveler ’03, is Six Degrees Records’ latest dispatch in music from around the world. Spanning continents and styles, Karsh Kale, MIDIval PunditZ, dZihan & Kamien, Ben Neill and Bob Holroyd are among the artists contributing new remixes and original tracks unique to this collection. A limited edition bonus CD of rare tracks will be included with Traveler ’03.

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Tony Allen European Tour

Paris, France -Tony Allen will be taking his Home Cooking album around Europe this summer. Kicking off in London, supporting Blur on the 9th of May he will go on to perform in Spain, the UK, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Portugal.

Many performances will be at festivals including the Plein Air and SOS Racism festivals in Spain, Glastonbury in the UK, Roskilde in Denmark and Porto Festival in Portugal.

The album was released late last year by Comet Records and is a funky fusion of afrobeat, hip-hop and electro music which Tony Allen calls Afro-Hop. Including collaborations with Ty from Big Dada, Unsung Heros and Doctor L and guest artists Eska and Damon Albarn.

Licensed to Virgin for France and Wrasse for England, it will be distributed throughout the rest of the world by Chronowax.

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Souad Massi

Souad Massi - Deb
Souad Massi – Deb
Souad Massi

Deb

Everything about this CD is aurally pleasing. She sings in a flawlessly charming voice, draws on her Algerian roots as well as Andalusian flamenco and Brasiian percussion. Flutes and lutes abound mellifluously, it is extremely well recorded and does the difficult job of achieving an exemplary second album. So what is the problem?

Well for me it too often strays into blandness. It rarely excites me for all its perfection. Am I being churlish? I hope not.

For example the opening track has a cello setting the mood before her voice swoops and glides effortlessly over some subtle percussion. It is a pleasing combination, there’s no doubt of that. It’s just that it tends to wash over you after a couple of listens. A friend, listening to her, described it as world muzak. I wouldn’t go that far but in places it is dangerously close to sounding like very superior background listening.

That said I do like Yemma with its splashes of violin and oud to colour the hypnotic melody. The dark tracings of cello, coupled with acoustic guitar make Le Bien et Le Mal memorable too.

But at times I felt that this was an attempt to produce a sort of all-purpose world music album. I’m all for variety but this seems to attempt too much and as a result there isn’t a strong sense of personal identity evident. I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied but I’m sure others will feel entirely differently and it will sell millions. 

Buy Deb, and her other albums, Mesk Elil, and Raoui.

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Natacha Atlas: Lifting The Veil

Interview by Seth Jordan

The last time I spoke with Natacha Atlas by phone, on the release of her last solo album “Gedida” in ’99, there was a raging party going on in the background, with people screaming at each other in Arabic throughout. The belly dancing English/Egyptian diva had to stop our conversation several times in order to quiet down the domestic situation, alternating between her usual rapid-fire English accent and a blistering verbal Arabic assault on those making all the racket.Such cultural schizophrenia is nothing new however for the feisty pint-sized
chanteuse, who is also fluent in French and Spanish. Born of mixed Arab and
Sephardic Jewish parentage, Atlas grew up in the Moroccan suburbs of Brussels in
Belgium, moved to England when she was eight, travelled back and forth to
Belgium as a teenager and has the dubious distinction of being Northampton’s
first Arabic female rock star.

Her international career began in the early 90’s with UK beat crew Loca! and was
further enhanced when dub bassist Jah Wobble used her in an early incarnation of
his band The Invaders Of The Heart. Her long involvement as guest vocalist with
those ever-mutating, multicultural English dance mixmasters, Transglobal
Underground, has brought her sensuous blend of tradition and technology to the
ears of global groove listeners worldwide. These days she’s a World music icon,
a veteran of international WOMAD festivals, Galstonbury and Montreux. Her solo
albums, produced by the Transglobal team, have all received justifiably high
praise and include her ‘95 Beggars Banquet/Nation debut “Diaspora” and ‘97’s “Halim”.

Back in London after seven months in Egypt, putting the finishing touches on her
next album and preparing for her first tour of Australia in September, Natacha
is revved up and ready to rave. Her trademark stream-of-consciousness answers
are short on pauses, contain virtually no punctuation, and break only for the
occasional sharp intake of much-needed breath.

Brave beyond my own expectations I attempt to get a word in…….

Natacha, having spent the best part of the last year living in Cairo, is
Egypt becoming your preferred home these days?

Yeah, well it has been for seven months anyway, from the beginning of last
December. I brought back a colleague from Egypt too, named Rico, who’s been
composing my new album with me and he’s my new percussionist as well. There’s
fresh blood in the group with a few new members. So we’ve now got three English
musicians and three and a half Arabs, with me as the half. You could cut me down
the middle actually, this double identity of mine, half Arab and half European.

Some time ago when talking about your mixed ancestry you referred to yourself
as “A human Gaza Strip”. Do you still feel that way?

What I meant was that there’s a conflict within myself, with my differing
backgrounds happening simultaneously, about where I belong and don’t belong. But
I discovered that in Egypt there are so many sub-cultures existing that you can
walk in and out of several timewarps within five minutes. I’ve never really
known what bracket I fit into, but having seen the way it is in Cairo, I now see
myself as an Egyptian from one of those sub-cultures. There are so many people
there that are half-Egyptian and half-foreign, or three-quarters and one-quarter
or whatever. Quite often each sub-culture will have its own community, it’s own
clique, with it’s own mentality, views and attitudes. Some come and go all the
time, some have been schooled overseas, some haven’t, there are millions of
different weird stories, but they all have Egyptian roots from their parents or
grandparents or from being born there. So I’ve seen that I’m actually not so
abnormal after all and while I still sometimes feel like the Gaza Strip, it’s
probably a bit less than it used to be.

What’s the music scene in Cairo like these days?

There are lots of different scenes and again it’s easy for most people to only
be aware of their own sub-culture. There’s the wedding scene where the
respected, successful artists play, weddings and birthday parties. Those artists
get paid a bloody lot of money and they might do three parties a night, make
about $6,000 a month. I think I could get very bored of doing that scene after
awhile because it’s just incessant. It’s like selling yourself to the devil, but
that’s what a lot of musicians do there all the time.

Then they’re just starting to get these DJs who are a bit more hip to what’s
going on, playing tracks from the ambient mixed World music scene, but it’s
still quite new there. There’s a couple of big places there that hold like 4,000
people and these few DJs are playing my stuff and Transglobal mixes at those
places. But you can only get my music there on a couple of compilations. If I
can’t get my stuff released there in the official manner I guess I’ll have to
just do it unofficially.

Then you get people who are like Rico, who are used to playing with the
classical artists or the Egyptian pop artists, but he’s been getting into what
we’ve been doing the last couple of years and now really understands it, so he’s
writing new music along those lines. The album I’m putting together now is still
my usual mix, and it’s certainly not mainstream Egyptian music, but it’s a
totally Egyptian production other than two members of Transglobal Underground
who are involved. Even the cover photo is being done by an Egyptian photographer
who paints his photos after he prints them.

It must be a bit of culture shock to come back to England after that length
of time away. What do you miss most when you’re in Egypt that you’re used to
having in England?

Organization! Less chaos, less noise, people being on time, things like that.
This is the first time Rico’s ever been out of Egypt and his comment is, “Wow,
everything’s so organized here. Even the dirt is organized!” In Cairo the
pollution is really bad, it’s a filthy city really. It’s vibrant and attractive
at the same time, but it can be a hellhole as well. I knew exactly what he meant
when he said that. He didn’t mean the road, he meant the dirt itself is all in
neat little piles here in England instead of just blowing around chaotically as
it does in Cairo. It made total sense to me that that was his first impression.

You’ve said that Transglobal is about breaking musical shackles but that your
own music is more about working within the rules of Arabic music. What are those
rules?

In order to keep the identity of Arabic music you have to respect the Arabic
scale. We put all the proper quartertones or whatever where they’re supposed to
be in order for it to make sense to the Arabic form and to the musicians
themselves. You don’t need to fuck about with the Arabic scales, they’re
beautiful as they are. If you just mix them together with modern European sounds
and dub sounds, you’ve got a great blend. There’s no need to invent any new
scales and you couldn’t if you tried anyway. You’ve got everything you need in
the core and essence of Arabic music as it is.

On the official Transglobal website they’re quoted as saying, “Natacha’s
longstanding association with the band is a continuing source of confusion for
both Transglobal and for her”. What’s the state of your Transglobal involvement
these days given the expansion of your own band?

It’s a matter of organizing our lives around each other. We’re still involved of
course as Tim (Whelan) and Hamid (Man Tu) have done part of the writing on the
new album and will be mixing it as soon as I finish the vocals. We might not
play live together much anymore though as we just can’t these days. They’re
doing their tours and I’m doing mine. We can’t be in two places at once and it’s
too tiring as they’re getting too old and maybe I am too. Whenever it’s time to
make an album though we always manage to find each other again. They’re always
involved in my albums, it’s a necessity for me. They understand the structures
and if you’re doing the arranging for this sort of music you need to know much
more about those things than just the average musician. It’s been a long
learning process for us all over the last ten years and we’re able to do things
now that not many people can, as far as mixing the scales and the technology is
concerned.

Both your own band and Transglobal will be appearing at the big pre-Olympic
“Hemispheres” festival in Sydney in September. Can we expect some crossover
there between the two bands?

I was hoping that we’d be able to get up onstage together, but my understanding
from my manager, who manages both bands, is that apparently they’re flying out
as we’re flying in. We’re playing on different nights there, so it doesn’t look
like it can happen. That’s how it always is these days. But since I’m touring
around Australia a bit and they are too, maybe we’ll cross paths somewhere else.

Will your sets here be from the forthcoming album or mostly older material?

We’ll still be doing material from the last two albums, “Gedida” and “Halim” as
well as two songs that I’ve just been working on. You’d never guess what one of
them is though. It’s a really extraordinary Egyptian version of Screamin’ Jay
Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You”. It’s quite intense and you wouldn’t even know
that’s what it is until the piano chords come in with the melody. If he could
hear it from wherever he is I think Screamin’ Jay would have liked it though.

Your live show is known almost as much for your belly dancing as for your
singing. Do you have any cultural problem with the continuing popularity amongst
non-Arabic Western women to learn belly dancing or is it fine with you for the
art to be passed on in this way?

I think it’s fine. I’ve seen a lot of good European dancers and I’ve seen some
bad ones too. It’s interesting how some of this art form is developing outside
of the Middle East. It does give it a different character. I’ve seen troupes of
European dancers and it has a different nature about it because it doesn’t have
the soul of a Middle Eastern person, it’s got a European soul instead. Maybe
there’s a little bit of ballet in their background or another Western form that
they’ve learned, but it brings something different to it, and as long as you
know the difference between the two it’s an interesting variation.

As this is your first time in Australia is there anything in particular that
you want to see or do while you’re out here?

My manager, who’s Australian, has also told me that I should try and get up to
your Great Barrier Reef while I’m out there too. I’ve done a bit of snorkelling
in the Red Sea near the Suez Canal, although it’s usually really hot there, 35
or 40 degrees (Celsius) and I’m used to that kind of heat. If it’s that hot down
in Australia I can get in the sea, but if it isn’t then I’m not sure I’ll be
able to even get in the water at all.

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