The Scala is a stunning venue. When you arrive for the first time, you don’t know where to go, you feel lost, but once you find your way around you love it for the decoration and the atmosphere. The first thing that struck me was the audience: sitting on the floor and already deep into the music, provided courtesy of the support act. The audience quietly moved in rhythm and there wasn’t any one age group, caste or ‘type’ dominating. Saris mixed with jeans and suits; different dress styles and very multicultural.
The support act managed to inspire awe with their stunning Arabic and western instruments, played with virtuoso perfection. One of the guys with long hair was just fantastic, playing the most amazing instrument I’ve ever seen, very difficult to describe – even he couldn’t, despite trying.
Break! People began to stand up as the venue became ever more packed, gathering around the stage. “She’s coming!” was the whisper in the air. And then she was with us. Natacha Atlas went straight into it – launching straight into a modest Arabesque dance. Material from her recent album Ayeshteni made up the bulk of a long set, including the Jacques Brel cover Ne Me Quitte Pas and the longest rendition yet of her take on I Put A Spell On You.
She was concerned about popping noises in the speakers early on in the gig, gesticulating at her sound men just as she had at her last gig at the Union Chapel. It remains a mystery why some sound men are ever employed; clearly Natacha thought so as she anchored her mic and stomped off stage to remonstrate with them.
As she left the stage to change, two drummers performed a “war” in a very Turkmenistatian way. When back she came, Natacha was again controlling the stage, despite the dominant presence of “human beatbox” JC-001 as a guest, last seen on stage with Nitin Sawhney. Various ladies swooned and yelled about “what a fit bod he’s got” as Natacha swayed and pirhouetted nearby. The combination of Natacha and JC-001 sounded great. At points the audience was getting very high shouting: “We love you! You are beautiful!” – to which Natacha half-smiled, in that disarming way she has. She invited one stunning girl to dance with her on stage and the double act was nothing if not a visual feast.
And that is essentially what Natacha Atlas gigs are; visual feasts and aural delights, mixed together seemingly effortlessly by an endearing and highly talented vocalist. Go see.