North African and Arabian music is given a modern, dance-inspiring twist by Brussels-born and Washington, D.C.-based vocalist Natacha Atlas. A former singer for techno-pop band Transglobal Underground, and an occasional collaborator of Jah Wobble, Atlas has continued to explore the fusion of her musical roots with Western electronic dance music. While Option magazine explained, "[Atlas] has a beautiful voice, which sounds curiously like a blend between traditional Middle Eastern singers and Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins," The Wire wrote, "buoyed by her devotional calling and the chatter of programmed beats, she swoops, glides and goes reaching for the heavens in a way that needs no translation". CMJ New Music praised her for having "explored the far reaches of the ethnotechno spectrum."
The daughter of an English mother and a Sephardic Jew father, Atlas grew up in a Moroccan suburb of Brussels and was heavily influenced by the Arabic culture. In addition to learning to speak French, Spanish, 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 1990s, Atlas 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 had co-written. Accepting an invitation to join Transglobal Underground as lead singer and belly dancer, Atlas was featured on the band's albums Dream of 100 Nations and International Times. Atlas 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 of her life's work thus far. 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 and a year later the sentimental Mish Maoul appeared as an homage to the music she heard while being raised in Morocco. After an extended recording absence, Ms. Atlas returned with Mounqaliba on the Six Degrees imprint in 2010.~ Craig Harris