Belgian-born singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and classical belly dancer Natacha Atlas is possessed of a throaty, expressive alto and offers a multilingual vocal approach to the fusion of Arabic and South Asian musics with Western styles, from electronica to pop to jazz standards. As a solo artist and in well-documented collaborations with more than 100 others (Peter Gabriel, Jean-Michel Jarre, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and Belinda Carlisle among them), her music was born from her family's heritage of Egyptian, Palestinian, Moroccan, and Sephardic ethnicities. Her intensely rhythmic vocal style was heard outside Europe first with Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart on the hit album Rising Above Bedlam in 1991. She served as lead vocalist and belly dancer with world fusion electro band Transglobal Underground, starting with their dancefloor hit single "Temple Head." She is a relentless experimenter. Her solo albums, beginning with 1995's downtempo fusion set Diaspora, have charted across the Arab world. In 1998 she a delivered an Arabic fusion cover of Françoise Hardy's pop chanson "Mon Amie en Rose" that charted in Europe. Her 2006 offering Mish Maoul wed Arabic, electronic, and organic beats to Latin sounds and bossa nova. In 2008 she fronted the traditional Arabic Mazeeka Ensemble on Ana Hina. She took on British folk with 2010's Riverman EP, that featured her charting cover of Nick Drake's signature tune alongside a host of club remixes. In 2016 she delved into jazz with Myriad Road, produced by trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, and Eros with Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa. She has since performed with her old friends in Transglobal Underground while continuing to record on her own, releasing Strange Days in 2019.
The Brussels-born Atlas is the daughter of an English mother and a Sephardic Jewish father. She grew up in a Moroccan suburb of Brussels and was heavily influenced by its Arabic culture. In addition to learning to speak French, Spanish, English, and Arabic, Atlas was trained in the traditional techniques of raq sharki (belly dancing). Moving to England as a teen, Atlas quickly attracted attention as the first Arabic rock singer in Northampton.
Dividing her time between England and Brussels, Atlas sang in Arabic and Turkish clubs and appeared briefly with a Belgian salsa band, Mandanga. In the early '90s, she became involved with England's alternative rock scene, appearing on ¡Loca!'s single "Timbal," Apache Indian's single "Arranged Marriage," and Jah Wobble's album Rising Above Bedlam, which included five songs she co-composed. Accepting an invitation to join Transglobal Underground as lead singer and belly dancer, Atlas was featured on the band's first four albums -- Dream of 100 Nations, International Times, Interplanetary Meltdown, and Psychic Karaoke. She continued to work with Wobble, as well, co-writing and singing on three tunes from his album Take Me to God in 1994. Atlas' debut solo album, Diaspora, released in 1995, featured accompaniment by Tunisian singer/songwriter Walid Rouissi and Egyptian composer and oud player Essam Rashad. Halim followed in 1997 and Gedida in 1999. Atlas worked with soundtrack composer David Arnold on the score of the Kurt Russell film Stargate.
In 2000 she released a collection of remixes. Ayeshteni appeared the following spring. Something Dangerous appeared in 2003 with a slicker and more pop-oriented sound. The career-spanning Best of Natacha Atlas was released in 2005, the same year she became a cultural ambassador for the United Nations. A year later, the sentimental Mish Maoul appeared as an homage to the music she'd heard during her childhood in Morocco. In 2008 Atlas fronted the traditional Arabic Mazeeka Ensemble led by Samy Bishai on the World Village title Ana Hina. 2010's Mounqaliba for Six Degrees was co-produced by Samy Bishai and inspired by the poems of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. In addition to original works, it contained covers of tunes by Françoise Hardy and Nick Drake. The album's composers included Zoe Rahman and Jocelyn Pook. She followed it with two remix EPs, Mounqaliba Rising: The Remixes and Riverman, reunited with Transglobal Underground for a tour, and collaborated with Bishai on the co-billed Les Nuits in 2013. Two years later she teamed with Ibrahim Maalouf on Myriad Road, her first collection of jazz tunes. She performed it with his band at festivals across Europe and Asia.
In 2016 she worked with pancultural jazzmen Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa on the album Eros alongside the Italian string ensemble Quartetto Alborada and Brazilian instrumentalist, arranger, conductor, and composer Jaques Morelenbaum. Its first single was a cover of Massive Attack's "Teardrop" with a jazz-classical arrangement. In 2019, she and Bishai co-composed the score for Herve Koubi's contemporary dance creation Odyssey and in September, released the album Strange Days on Whirlwind Recordings. Cut in the U.K., France, and Brazil. Strange Days was co-produced by the pair and its originals and covers wed jazz, bossa nova, Arabic, and Carnatic music. The lead single, a cover of James Brown's "It's a Man's World," was performed in duet with Joss Stone. Other guest appearances included reedsman Idris Rahman, guitarist Paulo Vinícius, and vocalists Tanya Wells and Sofiane Saidi. ~ Craig Harris