30 August 2010

Monday's mp3: Natacha Atlas Refines Her Sound

Natacha Atlas is notoriously difficult to pin down. She's willing to do anything from hip-hop and pan-global pop to to Arabic classical music. And she sings covers of everyone from James Brown to -- on her new album Mounqaliba -- Françoise Hardy and Nick Drake.

Recorded with pianist Zoe Rahman, a 20-piece Turkish ensemble, and a chamber orchestra integrating Western and Arabic styles, the album is rich with lush arrangements that evoke classical Arabic music. But there's always a twist, a hint of hookah and jazz and torch singing that defines the Atlas sound. Compared to much of her past work, the focus is much more on mood and melody than on beat, with the mood for several pieces set by a brief interlude track.

Several of these interludes include spoken word segments on planetary resources and free choice that reinforce a mood nearing dark desperation thoughout the album. Indeed, Atlas says that the title track began as "a lament about the state of the world, about how we seem to be in a state of reversal, how everything is cock-eyed and upside down and we are far from being civilized. It’s like we’re in the dark ages in some perverse modern way, so it was a lament. But it ended up as an instrumental with voices on it – but no words."

For a song with words, "Makaan" may be a good representative of the album, with the strings beating out a rhythm while Rahman's piano and Atlas' voice (with a brooding male response) dance out their melodies. Let this album grow on you; its subtle blend of cultures and sounds may be the closest we come to a musical autobiography of this Belgian-born London resident of Middle Eastern roots.

[mp3] Natacha Atlas: Makaan

from Mounqaliba

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