Over her first five recordings, Natacha Atlas has purveyed Eastern soul atsomething near its purest and most complex, mixing the East’s own musicalforms with Western genres in increasingly seamless grace. Now also a UN PeaceAmbassador, there could have been a danger of her losing touch with the kind ofhumility that possibly allowed for such a fluent and variegated expressionof her roots.
Yet Mish Maoul, her sixth LP, seems to step out further into ablissful and ever more consummate expanse. Atlas is evidently maturing as amusician like fine wine, and revelling in, rather than bowing to, her increasingworld stature, and underpinning her increasingly fine art is a voice thatcontinues to probe new realms.
2002′s The Natacha Atlas & Marc Eagleton Project being something of adeparture into a more stripped down atmosphere, Mish Maoul represents a return tothe controlled, yet culturally-teeming stylings of Atlas’s first four LPs.Atlas here makes her usual innovative pilgrimages into forms as apparentlydisparate as hip hop, Euro-pop, bossanova jazz, orchestra balladry, Eastern altpop and Arabic rhythms, her voice accompanying, emoting and knitting through thevarious styles with a soothing profundity.
Perhaps more pointedly thanbefore, Mish Maoul’s Eastern exoticism, whether expressed in instrumentalarrangements or Atlas’s tones, relates and weaves with its Western ingenuity toabsurdly good effect, and when left alone, has a broader self-confidence and morerelaxed identity than in past efforts.
Feen leads the way for Mish Maoul as a genre-joining quest. A quintessentialAtlas fusion of indigenous Eastern instrumentation and hip hop, Gamal El Kordi’saccordion coats Princess Julianna’s soulfully political rap in evocativequirks of texture, creating a fresh and noble slant on the protest song. ForAtlas, very little is out of bounds, and all that seems to be, she’s quickto traverse. Bathaddak at first evokes a pop take on a classic Kachaturianwaltz before transmogrifying into a form of Eastern/Euro-pop, in which sheproves the merited point that even in the unlikely event of her being in thenovelty-fond likes of Aqua, Atlas could still pull something off approachingtranscendent.
Bathaddak’s glitzy Euro pop stylings also show that she would make a betterGwen Stefani than the Lady of Legs and Exuberance herself, her voice layeredin call and response over the recurring insights of the omnipresent PrincessJulianna. Haram Aleyk is a similar take on the playfulness Stefani tries toevoke, though such a comparison is jesting and superficial in light of Atlas’s sheer, primal vocal and artistically evocative powers.
Veering characteristically in another direction, Ghanwah Bossanova is asultry, smoky bar room jazz epic, Bernard O’Neill on double bass and, at the sametime, piano, taken for the ride of his life by Atlas’s effortlessly powerfulvocal range. The orchestra-led Bab El Janna is similarly, smoothlyrevelatory. Of the tracks on Mish Maoul that offer a relatively pure contrast to herrelentless quest to distil new hybrids, Atlas’s opening duet with Sofaine Said,Oully Ya Sahbi, is a slow-building epic of quixotic Arabic romanticism -indigenous instruments like darabuka, ney and kawala coming straight out of aHermann Hesse novel to fill out the track with richly authentic flavour.
Another relatively pure-breed Eastern blast amidst the pioneering fusions isWahashni – a luxurious yet seriously affecting whirl of qanun, zils, bells,thumb piano and claps, underpinned by the mysterious Dabulah’s constantkeyboard drone and floated in the air by Atlas’s meditative, mantra-like lament.Possibly the purest effort, Hayati Inta, has O’Neill’s menacing and off-keydouble bass rumble overlapped by tribal male chants and a blinding riff fromone of oud, gambri, bendir, zournas, karkabou, prgmg, djouwak or tablemassaged into greatness by the heavenly entity that illumines this work like agolden thread.
Although there’s not a token piece of music throughout this LP, whether itcomes in response to a rap as foreign to her as egg and chips, a bass linethat harbingers death, or a primal jungle call, Atlas’s voice is a thing tobehold. She has an extraordinary, nigh-on mystic depth in her whole expressionthat reverberates profundity in the unlikely situations she delights in throwingup. Mish Maoul gives expression to an extraordinarily attractive alt-pop musicthat drips with the wisdom of heritage and the beauty of subtle, globalorchestration. From Ms Atlas, this is all we need ask.