Natacha Atlas & The Mazeeka Ensemble – Ana Hina (2008)

022008Natacha Atlas has a new album out – Ana Hina! It’s always a pleasure to listen to Natacha Atlas sing, and this album provides a particularly magical experience. Natacha’s phenomenal voice is supported here by acoustic arrangements, rather strikingly and refreshingly different compared to her previous (excellent) electronica-laced albums. This is a great summer album, full of soaring strings and bright touches of accordion and flutes, perfect for playing on a hot, lazy day. The standout tracks are “Black Is The Colour,” “La Teetab Alayi,” and “Hayati Inta Reprise” – but the whole album is a delight.

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Natacha Atlas – Gedida (1999)

natachaatlasNatacha Atlas was born in Belgium but didn’t stay there for long: she spent most of her young life traveling between Belgium and England, and visiting Egypt and Greece in her teen years. She performed in a few music and dance projects before joining up with Transglobal Underground (a key group in the rise of the popularity of world music) as lead vocalist in the early 1990s. Several members of the Underground helped Natacha with her first solo album, released in 1995, and have sometimes been involved with her subsequent releases.

Natacha is known for her beautiful fusion of Middle Eastern and European styles, incorporating traditional instruments with synths and breakbeats. Her first two albums, 1995’s Diaspora and 1997’s Halim are great examples of ‘world fusion’ – but it is 1999’s Gedida that shines.

gedidaThe album kicks off with the moody ‘Mon Amie La Rose’, a smoky, chilled-out yet electrified take on the Francoise Hardy original. Then we up the tempo and move on to ‘Agaba’, full of beats, bass, and strings. ‘Mistaneek’ keeps the beat going with its exuberant instrumentation, chorus, and sing-along bridge (I dare you to try not to hum along!).

‘Bahlam’ is a lovely mid-tempo track with great instrumental details and ambient touches. We chill out again a bit with ‘Ezzay,’ because even though the percussion and strings seem a bit fast-paced it’s really a great song to listen to on a lazy summer day. There’s no time to get too sleepy – Natacha brings some attitude with the rap that features in the first half of ‘Bastet’! Heavy beats and more neat instrumentation lead into the second half of the song, a drum’n’bass/breakbeat take on elements from the first half.

The next track, ‘The Righteous Path,’ starts off with dramatic strings and percussion. Watch out for the stunning moment at 2:18 where the instruments drop out and strings and Natacha’s vocals come in. It’s only a small bit, but I think it’s really cool. :)

The mood lightens with the kicky ‘Mahlabeya,’ with its zippy strings and tongue-twisty vocals. It might make you feel a bit dizzy if you’re listening in headphones! ‘Bilaadi’ follows with a rather jazzy intro and groovy bassline. ‘Kifaya’ is a gargantuan track at 8:59 but never gets dull and is probably the most ‘traditional’ sounding track on the album, owing to its lack of overt electronic touches.

The album closes with the gorgeous ‘One Brief Moment,’ an ethereal cover of the James Bond theme. With its ambient atmosphere and Natacha’s passionate vocals, this is one of Natacha’s best songs and is a fitting end to an amazing album.

I first discovered Natacha Atlas a few years ago and was so enchanted by her work that I quickly collected all of her albums – you might have the same experience if you check this album out! :)