Natacha Atlas is to be marvelled at. She’s a singer – British, of mixed Muslim and Sephardic heritage – of breathtaking mettle; she communicates a musical quality that transcends difference; and she manages to make all this sound so much fun. What more could anyone want?
As 1999’s _Gedida_ album demonstrated, Atlas has, since her relocation to Egypt, become an important player in that country’s development of _al-jil_ (generation) music – a popular, Arabic-language format that draws from both sampler technology and Middle Eastern traditions. There are wonderful surprises scattered all over *Ayeshteni*. ‘Shubra’ gathers a momentum from a hint of dance beats powered by beautiful slithery strings and a vocal whose emotional quality is apparent despite any language barriers. Atlas’ foray into English for the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic ‘I Put a Spell on You’, hasn’t the malevolence of the original but it does have some great piano and string arrangements. More successful is a cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’. Maybe the split-second turns of the strings suit Brel’s own twists, but the effect is undeniable. Atlas soon picks up the pace with some jaunty and mysterious songs, and while *Ayeshteni*’s ending is given over to a terse, heavily cut-up Nitin Sawhney mix of ‘Manbai’, the cumulative effect is of a musician who refuses any false constraints on her work.