Natacha Atlas approaches each one of her albums as an opportunity to grow as an artist and experiment with new musical influences. Thus her research often produces an interesting mix of the familiar and the exotic, the traditional and the cutting edge. If one were to pin her inspirations onto a board it may look something like this:
Top row, left: Taheya Carioca, Egypt’s undisputed queen of Eastern dance. She reigned over Cairo as its star belly dancer for much of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s; One of Atlas’s great talent’s is her ability to mix musical traditions from all over the world to produce something that is unique and familiar at once. For her latest album Atlas incorporated bossa nova rhythms from Brazil with Arabic lyrics; The Nightingale of the Nile Abdel Halim Hafiz has been a major influence on Atlas’ work; A portrait by the Egytian photographer Youssef Nabil who shares a similar aesthetic with Atlas and a love of images from the heyday of Egyptian cinema in the 30’s-50’s; Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in the 1963 film. Atlas often plays with Western notions of Eastern beauty with her own image. She used Taylor’s 1963 film as an inspiration for her first album cover.
Middle row, left: A bust of Queen Nefertiti; Atlas has collaborated with a number of artists including Sinead O’Connor on her album Something Dangerous; Known as The Voice of Egypt and The Star of the East, Umm Kalthoum has influenced more singers in the Arab world than any other artist, including Atlas; Natacha often takes inspiration for her own look from the stars of classic Egyptian cinema, such as the actress Madiha Yousry; Farid al-Atrash, the famous actor, singer and composer produced a legacy of work that stretches from the 1930’s-70’s; During the 1930’s and up until the 50’s belly dancing in Egypt was considered a serious art form, requiring years of practice and apprenticeship. Its most respected practitioners were elevated to the role of Divas. One of the most famous is the actress and belly dancer Samia Gamal, who also worked in Hollywood. Atlas carries on this tradition of Eastern dance in her own work, frequently belly dancing at her own live performances to the accompaniment of her music.
Bottom row, left: The legendary Lebanese singer Fayrouz is much loved throughout the Arab world. Her music is often sung as a form of protest against oppression. Atlas performed a number of Fayrouz’s songs on her last tour; The Egyptian/Italian singer Dalida; A self portrait of the young photographer Youssef Nabil who considers Atlas his muse and has collaborated with her on several album covers; The Jazz legend Nina Simone, Atlas did a version of Simone’s song I Put a Spell on You; Björk, one of the artists whose work Atlas has admired over the years and with whom she hopes to collaborate with in the future.
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