Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!


Natacha Atlas: A Myriad of Possibilities

Nenad Georgievski By

Sign in to view read count
Belgian singer Natacha Atlas' music sits on the brink between two cultures: Western and Eastern. She uses this meeting of sounds to create something unique that takes the best from both worlds. Atlas began her career with Transglobal Underground, a world music and electronic dance fusion act with whom she recorded four albums. The group's unorthodox approach received widespread acclaim and served as a catalyst for furthering fusion between world music sounds and Western electronic dance music. When she left the band she went on to release several solo recordings; their innovative fusion of Arabic classical, electronic and pop music garnered an impressively diverse array of admirers.

Her latest album, Myriad Road has a similar cross-cultural appeal. Produced by one of the world's most interesting jazz artists, trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, this record mixes acoustic jazz and funk with Arabic music and further expands her maverick approach to music making. AAJ caught up with Atlas at the Bitola World Music Festival, Macedonia where she premiered the record only days after it was released. Her new sound fitted perfectly with the artistic direction the festival is headed in; welcoming artists that are equally inspired by jazz and traditional music. Her melange of jazz and Arabic music dazzled the people in attendance. After the performance, she took AAJ through the making of Myriad Road, and offered a glimpse into her creative process.

All About Jazz: Could you talk about the creative process and the ideas that fueled the music on Myriad Road?

Natacha Atlas: Basically, it really started with piano and a voice. Ibrahim [Maalouf] and I got together, I had already written some lyrics and then he would start playing some chord ideas and melodies. It sort of developed from there. It started from just piano and voice.

AAJ:Where did the jazz influences come from?

NA:I can't profess to know too much about jazz, but all my musicians are real jazz musicians. So I'm learning about jazz through my musicians.

AAJ:Your version of "Riverman" by Nick Drake is one of the first indications of you traversing the road between pop and jazz, and all of that spiced up with Arabic sounds.

NA:Yes, that's a Nick Drake song, but the way that Samy [Bishai] re-harmonized it and the way he approached it was in a very 'jazz' direction, because Samy studied jazz. In fact, he came to Arabic music from jazz first, even though he is half Egyptian and half English and he grew up in Alexandria. But his father and his mother both loved jazz, so he grew up with jazz, listening to artists like Miles Davis and all the jazz greats.

AAJ:Could you talk about the role of Ibrahim Maalouf and how he influenced the record?

NA:He had a very strong idea about who he wanted on the album in terms of musicians. He chose a drummer called Andre Ceccarelli, who is a well-known jazz drummer in France. Ceccarelli has worked with people like Didier Lockwood, who is a famous jazz violinist in France. So, Ibrahim had a very strong idea about what kind of musicians he wanted on the album. Those were definitely in the jazz field and I think he had a more definite idea about it than I did. He had said that he wanted to have the feeling of his album "Wind." That album is one of my favorites and I love that direction. But I actually felt that this one should have a different direction.

Some of the album, to me, has a '70s jazz-funk feel. That was definitely his direction more than it was mine. And then, with a song like "Voyager," I wrote the lyrics and the melody and then Samy wrote the musical accompaniment. He re-harmonized what I'd written. That almost has a sort of a slightly folky sound to it... Ismail [Lumanovski, originally from Bitola] plays on clarinet. He is just fantastic because that's the part when he plays it, that's the thing that brings it home to me in a way. It brings it back to familiar ground.

Samy and I wrote "Ya Tara." The jazz style that comes through, it is sort of ballad like for me. It's like Chet Baker with the drums having a more 'jazz' approach. I really like that because for me it really is a cross between an Arabic ballad and a jazz ballad.

AAJ: The vocals are the most indicative aspect that this record is a meeting place between jazz and Arabic music. The singing is jazz but the phrasing is Arabic.

NA:Yes, and the melody is very close to jazz. There is a quarter tone in it. You can actually sing it without the quarter tone. You can do it straight, but actually, it was written with the piatti [cymbals]. So that is why it really is a cross between jazz and Middle Eastern music with the quarter tone scale being so much a part of it.

AAJ: How do you feel about taking the acoustic route with this record? You began your career as part of Transglobal Underground, a dance band that mixed electronic music and ethnic sounds. Even your own recordings have that electronic background to them. So how does it feel to be playing acoustic music for a change?


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Dazzling Alexis Cole Catching Up With The Dazzling Alexis Cole
by Suzanne Lorge
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Alex Han: Embracing The Spirit Catching Up With Alex Han: Embracing The Spirit
by Liz Goodwin
Published: October 4, 2017
Read Ramon Valle: The Amsterdam transplant remains rooted in Cuba Catching Up With Ramon Valle: The Amsterdam transplant remains rooted in Cuba
by Joan Gannij
Published: October 3, 2017
Read Dara Tucker: Seeds of the Divine Catching Up With Dara Tucker: Seeds of the Divine
by Suzanne Lorge
Published: August 31, 2017
Read Jan Zehrfeld: Heavy Jazz Catching Up With Jan Zehrfeld: Heavy Jazz
by Phillip Woolever
Published: August 27, 2017
Read "Cathing up with Lee Konitz" Catching Up With Cathing up with Lee Konitz
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 23, 2017
Read "Dara Tucker: Seeds of the Divine" Catching Up With Dara Tucker: Seeds of the Divine
by Suzanne Lorge
Published: August 31, 2017
Read "Steely Dan's Jon Herington and Jim Beard" Catching Up With Steely Dan's Jon Herington and Jim Beard
by Mike Jacobs
Published: July 6, 2017
Read "Eric Burdon’s Summer of Love" Catching Up With Eric Burdon’s Summer of Love
by Walter Atkins
Published: July 30, 2017
Read "Louis Hayes: Still Moving Straight Ahead" Catching Up With Louis Hayes: Still Moving Straight Ahead
by Joan Gannij
Published: May 23, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Please support out sponsor