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Natacha Atlas: A Myriad of Possibilities

Nenad Georgievski By

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NA:It started in 2007 actually. I met a guy who was a musical director who mainly worked with choirs. He played piano, and my first acoustic album "Ana Hina" had some old songs, like Fairuz [a Lebanese singer] songs and [Egyptian singer Abdel Halim] Hafez songs, and we did it in a slightly Gypsy, slightly jazz way, and it was acoustic. This guy, Harvey Brough, was the one who basically said 'we can do this acoustically and it's a very different direction for you.' And I wanted to try it.

That was the first time I played with jazz musicians. For me, that was a real revelation because I came from that sort of electronic and Arabic pop side, and that was a great experience especially when I was new to being on stage. It was an adolescence in music and Transglobal Underground was just a fun adolescent thing. None of us really knew what we were doing. We were just experimenting.

By the time, I met Harvey and the acoustic direction came into play, I was more mature and I knew more about music than I did when I first started. We were just having fun, you know. When I first started with the electronic pop thing I just wanted to make music that was about my two identities. I wanted to make music for people like me, who were of mixed cultures. And then, by the time I got to "Ana Hina" I wanted to do old songs in an acoustic way but have a slightly 'jazz' influence and do them in a way that everyone can identify with. So, for instance, I did a cover version of "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair," which is a folk song that Nina Simone has done a version of. I wanted to put a little bit of my identity in there, the way that I sing. I think it was a successful cover version because people really like it, but they like it because it is a bit different.

And then I did songs like "La Shou El Haki," which is a favorite. This still has a fusion thing about it. For me, I felt that there was this acoustic direction and the jazz direction had a lot of doors that could be opened. That's why I guess I stayed there. I stayed in that sort of direction.

The only time I deviated from that was when Samy and I did this music for a modern ballet, a contemporary dance and it's called "Le Nuits" and the choreographer is Angelin Preljocaj, a famous French choreographer, who tours all over the world with his ballet company. He asked me to compose the music for this ballet, so I did with Samy. This album is a fusion of electronics, sound design, contemporary abstract music with a Middle Eastern style and some jazz. I did a new cover version of "It's a Man's World" in an acoustic jazz style and then I did some really abstract sound design music, which is very easy but very electronic. It is much more abstract than anything I have ever done since Transglobal Underground, because it is for contemporary dance. Sometimes they just want really weird sounds and an impression of street sounds or Middle Eastern sounds.

So Samy and I had a lot of fun with this album and it was great for me because I got to compose. My voice is not on every track. Sometimes I have ideas in sound design or I have ideas for what the cello should do. Things like that. I can compose in a different way than actually just always singing. Sometimes I can compose for another instrument. So, I had a lot of fun with this album. I think probably some of it is very strange because contemporary dance is sometimes not about music really. It's about strange noises and movements. But it was fun to do that as it was a different kind of experience. For me, it was very enriching because it showed how music can be used in other ways.

AAJ: What does the title refer to? It's a strange combination of words.

NA:I know. For me, I guess, Myriad Road, it's in the lyrics of the song "Voyager": "a myriad road are the roads that are left behind." But for me what it meant was that there are myriad of possibilities. We are all voyagers and we all come to intersections where we have several choices to make about where we go and what we do next. To me, that's the myriad road. Sometimes we think if we take this road and it doesn't go right then it could ruin our future for many years. I always wondered whether that's actually true, whether it's us, or it's just our fears that are blocking us. The myriad road is actually the same road. The roads before you are the roads behind you.

I guess I was thinking about it in a more of a quantum physics type of way. These are crazy conversations that come up after drinking raki [laughing]. When you start thinking about roads in a quantum way, that's where the myriad road of possibilities that we all have is. And then you start thinking about if there was a parallel universe, where would the myriad road lead you then.

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