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Natacha Atlas has been a major world music innovator since the early 1990s, first with Transglobal Underground, then her own albums commencing in 1995 with Diaspora. The Belgian singer is a mix of Moroccan, Palestinian, Egyptian, and British ancestry and has long championed the combination of Arabic musical traditions with modern popular music. Or “cha’abi moderne” in her words. She once called herself “a human Gaza Strip,” referring to her Judeo-Islamic heritage. Reggae, drum n’ bass and hip hop have all impacted her music, but the Middle Eastern roots are always deep. The mesmerizing rhythms and sinuous grooves are richly grounded in that part of the world. One can visualize belly-dancers even if none are present. She is a talented belly-dancer as well as singer, as Transglobal Underground made evident.
“There will always be two identities living within me: Arabic and European. When I was very young, I tried to ignore the Arabic side, my father’s side, because I saw it as foreign,” she said. “But something happened in my late teens. I was at a nightclub in Brussels and I heard Arabic music, and I knew then that there was something inside of me that I wanted to go back to. So I ended up going to the other extreme. But as you mature, you realize that you have both inside you...These days I dream in two languages, and not a day goes by when I don’t end up using Arabic.”
Atlas (yes, that’s her given name) is currently at work on a new album, Mounqaliba, co-produced by Samy Bishai, which will again explore the more classical world. Inspired by the poems of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, it was scheduled for release September 20, 2010.