Tag Archives: Natacha Atlas

Artist Profiles: Natacha Atlas

Natacha Atlas

 

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.

 

Natacha Atlas

 

1997’s Halim followed, and then Gedida in 1999 , both creatively and naturally fusing Middle Eastern and European styles, and delighting an ever-increasing audience in both territories.

 

 

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.

 

Discography

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)

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Natacha Atlas and Attab Haddad Quintet at Cadogan Hall in London

Middle Eastern music icon and singing sensation Natacha Atlas will perform Thursday, October 7th at 7:30 pm at Cadogan Hall in London.

Blessed with a glorious, passionate voice that bridges Middle Eastern and Western styles with instinctive ease. Natacha Atlas’ body of work is a testament to the richness and accessibility of Arabic culture.

Natacha will present songs from her latest album Mounqaliba recorded with guests including pianist Zoe Rahman, a 20-piece Turkish ensemble and a chamber orchestra.
Continue reading Natacha Atlas and Attab Haddad Quintet at Cadogan Hall in London

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From Atlas to Schuman, A Global Classical Exploration

Natacha Atlas - Ana Hina
Natacha Atlas – Ana Hina

 

Natacha Atlas – Ana Hina (World Village, 2008)

Mamadou Diabate – Douga Mansa (World Village, 2008)

Kaila Flexer & Gari Hegedus – Teslim (Independent release)

Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider – Silent City (World Village, 2008)

Monika Mauch & Nigel North – Musical Banquet (ECM New Series, 2008)

Carolin Widmann & Denes Varjon – Schumann: The Violin Sonatas (ECM New Series, 2008)

After a year of producing the global music themed community radio show, Global Heartthrob, I discovered many connections between traditional folk, classical and world music. I even featured a global classical theme periodically which included classical music from Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Silk Road. I did this mainly because I am a strong believer in the preservation of culture and music. And while a lot of music lovers see the connection between preservation of different folk and world music traditions, they don’t realize that audiences for European classical music are literally dying off and certainly in order to rescue European classical music from obscurity, cultivation of a younger audience is necessary.

So put aside for the moment this notion of a gasping economy or a recession. It seems that this one of the best times to choose what we truly value. I have never supported a consumerist society especially one that trashes the planet and creates mindlessness. But I do support grassroots movements, community building and the arts. And I have found that a negative attitude towards the arts exist in that some people, especially in government treat the arts as if it is a fringe benefit that is only permitted during a strong economy. The arts are treated like icing on a cake, but the arts are really the cake and not the icing. The arts represent the ultimate in human expression and reveal our connection to nature, each other and the entire planet.

If the people of this world truly desire world peace, then the arts should be a number one priority. The arts in a myriad of forms can play many roles, from societal expression, communication for peace, a tool for diplomacy through fusion projects and cultural exchange and to lift people out of despair and set them on the road to healing. We all know this intuitively or we wouldn’t be involved in the arts in the first place. It’s now a matter of convincing others who feel that our focus should be on war and violent means. It’s now a matter of convincing those with fearful and limiting beliefs that the arts are needed to pave the way to a better and more fulfilling way of living on the planet.

So with all of that in mind, let us begin our exploration of global classical music. And fortunately, the labels have sent me some real gems to share with you. Let’s start with Natacha Atlas & the Mazeeka Ensemble who set Atlas luscious vocals against a backdrop of Arabic strings, piano, accordion and exotic instruments. On this recording, east meets west. Most of what Atlas sings hails from the Arabic world, but she brings us material as far-flung as Mexico and the American Appalachians.

Atlas is a world music vocal stylist and similar to some of the most elegant American jazz chanteuse, Atlas possesses a commanding presence. Her vocals on “La Vida Callada” (music set to a dualistic poem by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo), and her vocals on the Appalachian folk classical “Black is the Color” speak volumes about this vocalists’ talent. Atlas brings old world charm to every track on this recording that recalls Egyptian divas and Bollywood stars. This is certainly one of the most gorgeous albums I have heard in awhile and I listen to gorgeous music on a daily basis.

 

Mamadou Diabate - Douga Mansa
Mamadou Diabate – Douga Mansa

 

Next, we head to Mali (even though the musician lives in the U.S.), to hear virtuosic solo kora music by Mamadou Diabate. This music which finds its roots in the medieval Manding Empire and its court musicians has certainly grown in popularity over the years. Judging from the number of West African musical recordings released every year this music has obviously touched the hearts of people in Europe, North American and beyond.

Mamadou Diabate exudes wisdom and reverence in his performance and he is a musician that gives meaning to every shimmering note, every nuance that radiate from his kora. The liner notes cite, “Mamadou Diabate’s fourth album cements his reputation as one of the most ambitious, creative and gifted living players of the 21-string Mande harp, the kora.” Certainly those folks who take world music seriously will wish to add this CD to his or her music library, if not listen to it on a regular basis.

 

Kaila Flexer & Gari Hegedus - Teslim
Kaila Flexer & Gari Hegedus – Teslim

 

For those folks who enjoy world acoustic instruments in abundance and vibrant musical tapestries, then Kaila Flexer & Gari Hegedus’ “Teslim” is certainly worth a listen. This independent release features Jewish Sephardic, Turkish, Greek and Celtic music. Lutenist Hegedus teams up with violinist/violist Flexer to create new interpretation of traditional songs and their own inspired compositions.

The songs on the album set a moody and comfortably melancholic atmosphere.

The music itself conjures so many visual images that it reminds me of an exotic film soundtrack, but more or less a musical landscape. And for those people with a fondness for Vasen and the nyckelharpa, Olav Johansson of Vasen fame appears on “Stone’s Throw”. This album possesses an exquisite quality and would most likely be enjoyed by veterans of world and classical music. The musical concepts and fusions on the CD might be too dense for someone just getting into “serious” music. But those already familiar with Middle Eastern music, Turkish modes, etc, will feel right at home with this recording.

 

Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider - Silent City
Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider – Silent City

 

Equally exotic is the partnership of Iranian spiked fiddle master Kayhan Kalhor and the avant- classical string quartet Brooklyn Rider, “Silent City”. Think Dastan Ensemble meets Kronos Quartet and Yo-Yo Ma rolled into one. In fact, the project was inspired, if not conceived by Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project which the renowned cellist convened at Tanglewood Music Center in 2000. Three of four musicians that would later comprise Brooklyn Rider performed one of Kahlor’s compositions. This led to an extraordinary musical exploration where western European concepts found a comfortable home with Iranian improvisations.

The Silk Road atmosphere comes through loud and clear on the first track, “Ascending Bird” which sounds like a cross between Mongolian folk music and rousing gypsy music. The second moodier track, “Silent City” despite its exotic modes recalls Terence Blanchard’s piece, “Levees” from “A Tale of God’s Will” in that both pieces successfully capture the emotions of a devastated city. You can literally feel the world crumbling beneath your feet listening to this track. Not to say that this is a depressing album because the music is too exquisite and passionately rendered for it to ever be called depressing. But again, this recording would be most enjoyed by discriminating palettes.

Monika Mauch & Nigel North - Musical Banquet
Monika Mauch & Nigel North – Musical Banquet

Next we return to Elizabethan England where lutenist and composer John Dowland’s son Robert compiled lute music from Europe and England for the project, “Musical Banquet.” German soprano Monika Mauch and English lute player Nigel North combine their talents as they revisit Robert Dowland’s compilation. Mauch brings crystal clear vocals to this collection of melancholic lute and voice songs which hail from France, Spain, Italy and England and from renowned and anonymous composers.

Fans of John Dowland might be delighted to hear six of his compositions which include the classic, “In darkness let me dwell”. I feel that this recording possesses wide appeal since we have all heard musical ballads and are familiar with singer-songwriters which musicians such as Dowland and even further back, the medieval troubadours act as predecessors. Themes about love and love lost appear in this collection of historic songs. History buffs and fans of Shakespeare will also thoroughly enjoy this collection.

 

Carolin Widmann & Denes Varjon - Schumann: The Violin Sonatas
Carolin Widmann & Denes Varjon – Schumann: The Violin Sonatas

 

Among European classical aficionados, the musical couple Robert and Clara Schumann is legendary. Robert Schumann composed three violin sonatas, but Clara kept the third one hidden from public scrutiny due to madness that Robert experienced towards the end of his life. German violinist Carolin Widmann and Hungarian pianist Denes Varjon perform that controversial third sonata on their recording, “Robert Schumann The Violin Sonatas” along with sonatas one and two.

My favorite is the second sonata with its cascading piano runs and wild man violin. The sonatas possess some moments of peace and even solitude. But they also possess the drama and fireworks you would expect from Romantic era classical music. Widmann and Varjon hoped to create edginess to their interpretation. I am not that familiar with Schumann, but the music does feel edgy to me. This is ambitious work by two formidable young virtuosos.

And so we end our quick journey into global classical.

Patricia Herlevi hosted and produced the community radio show Global Heartthrob for the past year. She currently hosts the music consciousness blog, The Whole Music Experience where cultural exchange, sound healing and conscious music are explored on a weekly basis.

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