Singer Natacha Atlas calls herself Anglo-Middle Eastern. Born in Belgium to an English mother and an Arab father, she made her name in multi-ethnic club music with the group Transglobal Underground. Atlas' recent work draws on her Arab cultural roots, including classical music and poetry. Her new CD, Mounqaliba, is a meditation on globalism.

Reviewer Banning Eyre says it's a subject that Atlas is uniquely qualified to take on.

(Soundbite of music)

BANNING EYRE: Mounqaliba is a classical Arabic word meaning to be in a state of reversal. The rich, subtle CD Natacha Atlas has made construes that idea in various ways, among them personal, as she channels the art forms of her ancestors.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. NATACHA ATLAS (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: This is the Muwashah, a song form that goes back to medieval Moorish Spain. Atlas is working with a 20-piece Turkish orchestra adept at both Arabic and Western classical music, as well as jazz. Western piano and Eastern ney flute take lead roles in the arrangements, and Atlas sings with that quality of fragility and power that marks the great Arab singers. Even when the beat picks up and Atlas hints at her pop music past, the mood remains reflective, even brooding.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ATLAS: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Atlas mostly sings in Arabic or French, but she includes one song in English, a luminous cover of Nick Drake's "River Man."

(Soundbite of song, "River Man")

Ms. ATLAS: (Singing) Going to see the river man. Going to tell him all I can about the ban on feeling free. If he tells me all he knows about the way his river flows.

EYRE: The songs on "Mounqaliba" are interspersed with ambient sound beds, laced with snatches of spoken word from Peter Joseph, founder of The Zeitgeist Movement.

Mr. PETER JOSEPH (Founder, The Zeitgeist Movement): You have to accept the reality that you are a conditioned being, and that the concept of free will is limited only to your intellectual tool set, the options given to you by your environment.

EYRE: On first listen, this juxtaposition of music and words might seem jarring. It's also provocative. The music bridges a cultural divide between Islam and Judeo-Christian societies. Joseph's words talk about societies as well but in structural terms: the monetary system, scarcity, propaganda, corruption.

The sounds and ideas on "Mounqaliba" rub against one another and ultimately produce sparks. Natacha Atlas hones the contradictions of her tangled heritage into an enchanting musical space and a restless meditation on the contradictions of an uncertain world.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Banning Eyre is senior editor at He reviewed "Mounqaliba" by Natacha Atlas.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ATLAS: (Singing in foreign language)


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from