The idea combining world music with dance beats is perhaps nothing new, but Natacha Atlas has mastered this art. While exhibiting her obvious love for her Arab roots in her music, as well as maintaining a club appeal, Ayeshteni is completely original and distinctive. Atlas has created her own genre of music, fearlessly forward-thinking while still embracing the past.
Flawlessly mixing traditional Arabic vocals and instruments with the very modern drum loops and trip-hop beats, Ayeshteni never seems to be at odds with itself. Understanding all the elements she is using, Atlas’s music exists in its own reality. It is like nothing you’ve ever heard before, but it always sounds right. Despite the seemingly incongruous elements that have been used, songs like the sweeping “Mish Fadilak” utilize them to their fullest, appreciating both the structure of Arabic music and the freedom of electronica.
Moving quickly from the upbeat “Ashwa” to the melancholy “Rah”, Atlas shaped this album to give it a sense of progression. Mysterious and evocative, she seems ahead of the listener at every moment. With her ability to combine cultures into her compositions, she constantly keeps people guessing.
With the exception of her ominous cover of “I Put a Spell on You,” all of Ayeshteni is sung in languages other than English. While this adds to its interest, it doesn’t help the songs to stand apart from each other. Perhaps because of this, even though Atlas has a beautifully emotional voice, it is sometimes hard to understand what she is trying to communicate. Tracks such as the encompassing “Soleil D’Egypte” are gorgeous in their structure and composition, but don’t create much more than atmosphere. Ayeshteni is amazing in its power, but at the same time, it leaves the impression that it exists for little more than for its own beauty.
// Notes from the Road
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