Natacha Atlas was born in Brussels of Anglo-Middle Eastern parentage, and lived there until the age of eight before moving to the UK. At the age of 18, after travelling for extended periods through Turkey, Greece and the Middle East, she found herself back in Brussels, making her first forays as a professional performer by guesting with a Salsa band made up of Chilean and Cuban émigrés, and also bellydancing in a succession of Turkish and Arabic nightclubs. By the time she returned to Britain, the elements were in place to launch her music career.
Natacha Atlas’s new offering, Myriad Road, sees her combining creative forces once again. This time, she has worked with one of France’s most eminent jazz musicians, Ibrahim Maalouf – the highly-garlanded Lebanese-born French jazz and classical trumpeter, producer, and composer – to produce her first jazz album.
“The first time I saw Natacha was in Istanbul,” says Maalouf. “We were at the same concert given by Smadj, who plays the oud, and he invited us up onstage to join him. Far from being an oriental cliché or pseudo-orientalist, the Natacha I met was a woman who was undeniably in touch with the world around us. Multicultural. Open to English-, French-, and Arabic-speaking cultures. But most of all, I recognized in Natacha a voice that’s unique. Hers is, perhaps, the only Arab voice in the West today which can truly claim to be authentic; at once contemporary and modern.”
A few weeks later after this chance encounter, both artists carefully began putting their ideas together in a subtle blend of their shared cultural differences. The result? The return of the Atlas voice, unafraid to leave the clichés of Arabic songs behind and to explore fresh musical terrain while maintaining the haunting integrity of the Middle-Eastern inflected vocals that are her hallmark.
For Maalouf, Atlas’s return is one “[…] where there’s a risk of disorienting those who can still see Natacha whispering ‘Mon amie la rose’ and sashaying around in brightly-coloured sequinned dresses. But to all those people who have no trouble imagining a different Orient, one that’s more in step with today’s world, this album will make complete sense.” As Maalouf astutely observes, Atlas’s return in Myriad Road with its unprecedented seamless integration of jazz and Arabic vocals tests boundaries and fearlessly opens up new musical territories. But then, these two characteristics have always defined Atlas’s output, making it as rich as it is diverse, as even a brief look at some of her most recent work demonstrates.
Agent: Sara Gigante