Live Music + Gig Reviews

Natacha Atlas @ Union Chapel, London

24 April 2001

Natacha Atlas

Natacha Atlas

Before we launch headlong into Natacha Atlas worshipping around here, let us spare a few words for her support act; I’ve no idea what they were called but they were rather fab. A short set was offered from an androgenous person, backed by one of the best drums and bass combinations I have ever heard and a keyboardist.

The vocalist/guitarist brought to mind myriad names for comparison, from Tricky through Nitin Sawhney via Skin to k.d. lang. A natural performer if such a thing can exist, this vision also sported a superb voice and essential, note-perfect guitar play. The songs owed much to Massive Attack and Sawhney, but they made for an intensely watchable set. As a plug for an album release, there could scarcely have been anything better. If only he/she had managed to convey their name and album title…

Anyway, the main event, and on she came after the obligatory gap, dressed in more secquins than you could shake a sewing machine at, with a backing band who may or may not have been other members of that polymorphous creature known as Transglobal Underground. As expected, we launched into a well considered set comprising mainly of new songs from Ayeshteni and some tracks from her previous efforts including the single the French loved so much, Mon Amie La Rose.

Alternating between French and Arabic, she looked strangely nervous – and then we worked out that an effects gadget was causing her some problems as she couldn’t hear it. A brief costume change, during which a spectacular standing instrument was played with thimbles by one of her band to rapturous applause – on she came again, dressed in a much more leisurely and appropriate flowing robe. She instantly seemed happier, the nerves forgotten – and it was time for English to take centre stage for a spectacular cover of I Put A Spell On You, featuring disrobing and belly dancing from Ms Atlas herself. It brought much of the audience to its feet in the process.

Off she went again, returning with yet a third costume and relapsing into Arabic. The spell had already been cast – at least ten people were now belly dancing at the front of the audience, of all ages and both sexes, clapping time to the Arabic beats which threatened riot in some places, easily on a par with the rhythm sections of Ozric Tentacles and Afro Celt Sound System, who know a thing or two about this sort of thing.

Banging something that looked the right size and shape to be a bohrain, Ms Atlas serenaded her way through the closing numbers, becoming herself captivated in the beats and at last looking comfortable, despite intermittent technical difficulties. With many of the songs being well over six minutes in length, this was a long set, adequately broken up by costume changes and band solos and ultimately climaxing in the audience of the Union Chapel chairdancing from fore to aft. Those that weren’t belly dancing, that is. A private performance, then, evoking faith, eroticism, exoticism, digital and vocal dexterity and audience delight. Don’t disappear to Cairo for another whole year, Natacha – London loves you.

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