Monday, August 18, 2008
NATACHA ATLAS AND THE MAZEEKA ENSEMBLE - Ana Hina (World Village)
A gorgeous album laid out on a sumptuously arranged base of small-ensemble strings. Could this be Natacha's best album yet?
There was some claim to the British singer of North African descent's last album deserving that description and, as appealing as that album was, Mish Maoul was something of a mish-mash in styles that worked well but in retrospect lacked the focus of a consistent style or approach.
Contrastingly, this is by far the most traditionally 'Arabic' of Natacha's albums, feeling like the end of a path that has taken her from framing a unique interpretation of Arabic pop with modern beats, through tributes to some of the great North African pop divas past and present, to this her most acoustic of recordings (oud, accordion, violins and the shuffling rhythm of the darbucka being the main instruments).
Lush (but not overbearing) covers of classic artists Fairuz and Abdel Halim Hafez sit alongside well-judged original compositions (usually stripped back, no risk of over-ambition spoiling the mood). A smouldering reprise of Mish Maoul's Hayati Inta (complete with a nod to Booker T and the MGs) sums up the intimate but arresting mood, and on La Vida Callada (The Unspoken Life), Atlas is joined by Clara Sanabras, the two vocalists weaving their voices around each other with Sanabras drawing a vibrant performance from her counterpart.
Indeed, on previous albums this marriage might not have worked, because there was always the danger that Natacha's breathy but lightweight vocals would be blown away by the instrumentation. Here, they rest exquisitely within subtly enhancing arrangements, and it's only the overly-reverential cover of Nina Simone's version of Black Is The Colour that prevents Ana Hina from being that rare creature, an album that works perfectly from start to finish.