Franco-Arab favorite Natasha Atlas has finally released Ayeshteni (You Make Me Live), her long-awaited fourth album, and announced tour dates (sadly all in Europe) for summer 2001, according to khaleej.com.
Born in Brussels’ Arab quarter to an English mother and a North African father with roots in Egypt, Palestine and Meknes in Morocco, Atlas personifies her music’s multi-cultural vibe. Ayeshteni is a vibrant blend of Arabic and European rhythms, sung in English, French and most of all in Arabic.
After a grueling 1999 tour to promote her third album, Gedida, which sold 130,000 copies in Europe and made her a bona fide star in France, Atlas spent much of last year recording Ayeshteni at Golden Sound Studios in Cairo, a city that inspires her personally and professionally.
“There’s a wonderful, mad vibe to Cairo and now I know where a lot of my madness comes from,” Atlas says. “People fluctuate between hilarity and an abundance of adulation and hospitality with much too much sugar and neurotic hostility. And that can happen within the same breath, sometimes!”
Atlas’ long-time partnership with British trance outfit, Transglobal Underground, is very much to the fore on Ayeshteni, with Transglobal’s Hamid and Tim sharing the production credits. Asian dub star Nitin Sawhney re-mixed the album’s final track, the whirling, heavily dub-inspired Manbai, possibly the most obvious club hit.
Straddling East and West, the album throws together a heady blend of ancient and modern, state-of-the-art digital production and the medieval lament of qanoun and oud.
The Zebda/Magid Cherfi-penned Soleil d’Egypte, sung in Arabic and French, is a haunting love song underpinned by spare, Bjork-influenced digital production. A subtle onslaught of strings conjures up haunting arabesques of sound on Rah.
European audiences will home in on Ayeshteni’s two non-Arabic tracks. The first is Atlas’ long-awaited cover version of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins blues track, I Put A Spell On You. Atlas chose the track as a potential crossover single that might break into the so-far elusive UK music charts.
In the meantime, dance artist Sonique has had a global summer hit with her version of the song, all stunning, soaring vocals underpinned by throbbing drum-n-base.
In a classic case of bad luck and bad timing, by comparison Atlas’ version simply tries too hard and seems overwrought and over-produced, despite its awesome percussion, scratching by DJ Awe and energy-packed chanted chorus by the Mohandiseen Male Voice Choir.
In a different league is Ayeshteni’s obligatory French cover track, retro and under-stated, an emotional version of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas, with heart-breaking strings and raw vocals. To Anglophone audiences, the song is known as a 1960s folk hit for Brel collaborator and poet Rod McKeuen, that became the 1974 schmaltz-fest, If You Go Away, by Terry Jacks.
Altogether, Ayeshteni is a mixed medley of sounds and influences, perhaps less adventurous than her first two albums but – on first listening, at least – perhaps also sacrificing the all-important one obvious Franco-Arab cross-over single in favor of a clutch of stirring and more-than-competent tracks – Albawaba.com
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