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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Middle Eastern and North African music with a Western beat and a touch of Brazilian bossanova - that's what you call multi-culturalism.

It's a new album, Mish Maoul, from Natacha Atlas.

Independent producer Derek Rath has more.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DEREK RATH (Independent Producer): For Natacha Atlas, Egyptian orchestras soaring over dance hall beats and Spanish guitar riffs set to the rhythms of Morocco are nothing out of the ordinary.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RATH: It's just the music of friends and neighbors, illustrated by her own cosmopolitan family.

Ms. NATACHA ATLAS (Musician): Well, mainly, they're Egyptian and Belgian, but my mother's English, so I guess I feel more Anglo-Egyptian than anything else, really. Although, you know, I speak French and so there's a kind of French-Belgian twist there.

Mr. RATH: You can also add a dash of Moroccan into the mix.

Ms. ATLAS: The Atlasi family began in Meknes in Morocco, and then the many different branches just kind of traveled out. But there was a branch in Egypt, even way back to the Middle Ages. There's a place called Khan el-Khalili, which is a sort of a famous sort of old Cairo marketplace, and there's a shop called Atlas, which was the Atlasi family that traded in silk - el Atlas family silk - from the Middle Ages.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ATLAS: (Singing) (Foreign language Spoken)

Mr. RATH: These ancient ties flavor her new album, Mish Maoul, which is an Egyptian catch-phrase meaning unbelievable. It's also a metaphor for Natacha's career, which she began as a founding member of the genre-crossing British band, Transglobal Underground, where she was chief vocalist and belly dancer.

Going solo, she garnered a legion of fans worldwide, and won the Best Female Singer at the 2001 Victoire de la Musique awards, France's equivalent of the Grammies. However, she stayed below the radar for many American fans.

Ms. ATLAS: That's why I say I wonder sometimes how they come across me, because I'm not top-ten, mainstream sheep fodder.

(Soundbite of Laughter)

Mr. RATH: On Mish Maoul, Natacha Atlas decided to follow her own instincts rather than some preconceived demographic. Her repertoire even includes some Brazilian elements, like on the track Ghanwah Bossanova.

(Soundbite of song, "Ghanwah Bossanova")

Ms. ATLAS: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

So on this album, I just thought, you know, whatever comes out comes out. And there's no plan here as to I'm doing this for these people or for that. You know, I just, we just kind of made music. That's why I'm kind of surprised that it's been getting the reactions it has been getting.

Mr. RATH: Also, for the first time, Natacha has incorporated Moroccan motifs and instruments in her music.

Ms. ATLAS: So I said, yeah, okay, great. Let's see what that sounds like, and, you know, so then had the Karkaba(ph) percussion and guenbri(ph) and the mizmars(ph) and all the stuff. And the rhythm was that sort of what they call the Hidoui(ph) rhythm, which is 6/8. And yet it was really fun to do because, you know, it's very lively, it's very dancy, and I've never sort of been in that direction before.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Men: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. ATLAS: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. RATH: Blended in with the international rhythms on Mish Maoul is a little bit of social commentary, as hear here on Feen, which rapper Princess Juliana.

(Soundbite of song, "Feen")

Ms. PRINCESS JULIANA (Rapper): (Rapping) It's freaky, baby.

Ms. ATLAS: It's Number 2, Feen, which means where. And that song is kind of socio-political. I mean, you know, the rapper Juliana sort of says it. In English, she says, it's freaky, baby. You wonder why the world's still crazy. You wonder about the times and the troubles that we're living and what kind of retribution will the future bring, and then she elaborates on that. And I answer her by saying, (foreign language spoken), which means, where are we going? It's like, you know, we know there's a problem, and, you know, whoever's behind the problem, it's got to be stopped.

(Soundbite of song, "Feen")

Ms. ATLAS: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. RATH: Natacha Atlas may well represent a voice from a future, less factionalized society. If that is the case, then perhaps the world isn't in such bad shape after all. For NPR News, this is Derek Rath in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: The album is called Mish Maoul from Natacha Atlas, and to hear more of it, go to our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ATLAS: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

BRAND: Stay tuned. There's more to come on DAY TO DAY.

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