Natacha Atlas

Diaspora

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Even in the increasingly multicultural western musical landscape of the 1990s, Natacha Atlas has more right than most to claim multiculturalism. The half-Jewish Egyptian-Palestinian diva is fluent in four languages and, besides her training in classical singing, she trained in the raq shari, the art of bellydancing. Her toasting has also been an integral element in the success of U.K. trance-techno group Transglobal Underground, and on her debut album, she continues and extends all those aspects of her personality. Diaspora comes up with a heady mix of traditional Arabic music and sprinkled techno beats that is so trance-inducing that it wouldn't go unnoticed on the dancefloor even though the songs are mysterious, hard to get your head around, and completely exotic. Atlas spreads her gorgeous, serpentine voice over each song like the spell of a snake charmer, and the results are mesmerizing. Despite the foreign tongue, the songs are dripping with passion, whether they are concerned with love and seduction, spirituality, ancient history, or the blood feud between Arabs and Jews, and never is the music less than accessible, albeit an accessibility that the listener has to work to acquire because it is so grounded in the Middle East. Although Diaspora is a lush, captivating album, it does not entirely detached itself from the sound of Transglobal Underground. Since Atlas enlists some of her Transglobal Underground bandmates, the album is still more of an extension of that band than a wholly individual sound. But on the evidence of engrossing, haunting compositions such as "Yalla Chant" and "Duden," as well as Atlas' otherworldly pipes, that individuality cannot be long in coming.

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