Natacha Atlas is an internationally-acclaimed artist with one of the world’s most distinctive voices. Turner Sims Marketing Assistant and University of Southampton Music student Rosie Sewell talks to her ahead of her gig at Turner Sims on Saturday 2 November.
RS: Your new album, Strange Days, has just been released! How would you describe this album?
NA: Well, I would say it’s, for the most part, a darkly dystopian Arabic infused jazz adventure; or more simply put, hybrid jazz with an atmospheric Arabic musical nature.
RS: The blend of Arabic, English, and jazz on Strange Days is incredibly unique, and beautiful! Did this merge of styles come naturally for you?
NA: There are actually some rather varied styles on this album that happened naturally. However myself and my collaborator/co-composer Samy Bishai have been exploring the possibilities of fusing Arabic scales with jazz for a few years now and it can be a real challenge, as Arabic music is mostly modal while jazz is rife with chromatic harmonic modulations. However the 2 disciplines share a commonality in the field of improvisation. The trick is finding a route to a musical space where the 2 can co-exist and interact and also equally complement each other… I feel we achieved this, but we were lucky enough to have an array of extremely gifted musicians which made the process really enjoyable – I have worked with a number of them for maybe almost a decade and they all love Arabic music too, so it was an ideal set up.
RS: How did these collaborations come about?
NA: The duets and special guests came about through people I know – for example Joss Stone was introduced to me through my good friend and previous collaborator Nitin Sawhney. We were having dinner with him and Samy and I was telling him about a soul track which was written as a kind of homage to great social philosophers like Martin Luther King, and as we were explaining the feel of the track he suggested Joss would be perfect for it and he called her on the phone right there and then! Tanya Wells who duets with me on Inherent Rhythm is the identical twin sister of Nicki Wells, who has sung on a lot of Nitin’s albums, and I met her through Nicki – they are both incredible singers by the way! Robinson Khoury, the stunning young trombone player on the track Maktoub, was introduced to me through the French Lebanese star Ibrahim Maalouf. I was thrilled to have so many brilliant guests on this album; it’s one of the many reasons I think this is my most accomplished album to date.
RS: You have released an incredible range of music over the past decade – are there themes that you feel have always been present in your music, or has your narrative changed significantly from when you started making music?
NA: I think there has been a thread of continuity through my work over the years; I have always expressed this through my musical duality born of my hybrid identity, which I feel has to be the presence of the Arabic scales and Arabic vocal ornamentation mixed with other influences and styles that I have discovered along the way.
RS: And finally, what is your dream day off?
NA: My dream day off is by the sea in the Mediterranean with all phones, computers, machines of any kind turned off… and really experience nature with no interruptions!