People tend to disagree about the origins of Natacha Atlas's parents. Natacha herself mentions an Egyptian grandfather. Her father probably is a Moroccan Jew (or at least Moroccan with Jewish ancestors), her mother is said to be an English Muslima. Natacha referred to herself as a "human Gaza Strip" (2) :" conflicts between my European and Arabic sides will continue -- my genetic code almost inevitably made me a nomad" (1) Natacha grew up in the Moroccan suburb of Brussels, where she was introduced to the art of raq sharki (belly dance) and cha'abi (modern Egyptian pop music). She learned several languages, i.e. English, French, Spanish and Arabic – in the course of her career, she will use all of them. After her parents separated she went to Northampton with her mother and became the first Arabophone rock singer. Later on, she had two jobs – belly dancing on the one hand, and being the lead singer of Belgian salsa band. In 1991 she recorded the track "Timbal" with Balearic Beat (¡Loca!). She also worked together with Jah Wobble, composing five tracks for the LP "Rising above Bedlam". Thanks to ¡Loca!'s record company, Nation Records, Natacha got to know labelmates Transglobal Underground who at the time had a Top 40 hit, "Templehead".
She became lead singer and belly dancer of the very eclectic crew TGU (www.t-g-u.com) who focuses on mixing Eastern and Western sounds as well as other styles. Count Dubulah of TGU says about former TGU head: "Nat is not an ordinary human ... Natacha is a special talent, being, she is a supremely and she doesn't even seem talented weirdo. She's a lovely to realise it - she's got the person; she's just got a few same phrasing and fluency character traits that need as Frank Sinatra ... kicking the shit out of. Like her Jah Wobble temper - she came at me with a knife once." (2)
Now TGU have a new lead singer, they also focus on African sounds rather than the East. Nevertheless, TGU continue producing tracks for Nat. Most of all of Nat's albums have been produced by TGU. Nat always focused on and continues to focus on her Eastern roots, as the titles of her albums imply: "Diaspora" (1995), "Halim" (1997) (in honour of Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez), "Gedida" (1998) and "Ayeshteni" (2001). In an interview with French mag "L'affiche", Natacha stated that she's very interested in her roots; and that's why she sings in Arabic, to find her identity and to reconnect with her roots. Nevertheless, she also likes modern music like Salsa or Reggae. ("Je m'interesse énormément à mes origines. C'est pour cela que je chante en arabe, pour trouver mon identité et me reconnecter avec mes racines. D'un autre côté, j'aime les musiques modernes: la Salsa, le Reggae..." (3) Her father is quite pleased about that, and – Natacha continues – he even claims that the Atlas mountains gave their name to his family. ("(mon père) est fier de moi parce que je m'interesse à notre famille, d'où elle vient. Ce qui est mignon et marrant, c'est qu'il croit – ou du moins il rêve – que notre nom est lié à un ancien roi de Mauritanie. C'est celui qui d'une chaine de montagnes est c'est dejà ça!")
Due to French-language tracks – especially her adaptation of Françoise Hardy's "Mon ami la rose" – Natacha is now quite popular in France. In the UK, on the other hand, she hasn't had her breakthrough yet. Natacha hopes that this will change with her new version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You". She's extremely pissed at some aspects of Britain, though, especially NME: "Someone from the NME rang us about a feature we're to do with them and said 'We don't want it to be about the multi-cultural angle'. In other words that fad is over. And I'm personally insulted - I mean what other fucking angle is there for us? I get sick of it all. (2)" Natacha's music is basically "cha'abi moderne" (i.e. an updated form of Egypt's pop music) as she says, there are also many influences from other styles like hip hop, drum and bass, reggae and so on.
(3) L'affiche 26/1995
Natacha Atlas Discography
- Diaspora (1995)
- Halim (1997)
- Gedida (1999)
- Ayeshteni (2001)