Natacha Atlas | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Natacha Atlas 

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In France, world music isn't just a record-shop rubric, it's a vibrant cultural force, and the Vive la World package tours have come to represent an annual report on the state of cross-cultural affairs there. The four acts on this year's bill all traffic in pan-African fusion, with mixed results. The highlight of the program is Belgian-born singer Natacha Atlas, whose family heritage blends Egyptian, Palestinian, Moroccan, and Sephardic components. Over the last decade she's built a career mixing traditional Arabic music with Western dance forms, singing in Arabic, French, and English and collaborating with the likes of Jah Wobble, Transglobal Underground, and Temple of Sound. Too often, though, the Eastern elements have served as a garnish instead of the main dish. But Atlas rediscovered her Egyptian roots on the superb Ayeshteni (Mantra/Beggars Banquet, 2001), which put an idiosyncratic spin on shaabi, the street pop of Egypt, with her delicate, high-pitched voice winding gracefully through dense Cairo string arrangements, propulsive Arabic rhythms, and Western club beats. On her new album, Something Dangerous (Beggars Banquet), she's widened the angle of her cultural lens again, and lost much of her focus. The opening track, "Adam's Lullaby," is a beatless, Celtic-flavored number cowritten with Jocelyn Pooks and gorgeously ornamented by the strings of the Prague Symphony Orchestra; everything else is geared to the dance floor. A raft of guest vocalists--including soul singer-rapper Princess Juliana, Indian singer Kalia, and Sinead O'Connor--assist Atlast in infusing hip-hop, bhangra, R & B, and moody modern pop with ethereal Arabic melancholy. Some of the tracks work--especially where Atlas's husband, Syrian qanun player Abdullah Chhadeh, contributes brittle, spindly melodies--but others are overwhelmed by all the disparate elements. Despite these missteps, the best of Atlas's music makes her first solo performance in Chicago a worthwhile gamble. Also on the bill is Electro Bamako, a collaboration between French producer Marc Minelli and Malian vocalist Mamani Keita; on their debut (on Palm Pictures) they adorn mesmerizing modal chants with trite, jazzy electronica; it's an approach that's worked better for Minelli's countryman Frederic Galliano. Tunisian Jean-Pierre Smadja (aka producer Smadj) and Algerian Mehdi Haddab (ex-Ekova) both play oud in the electric fusion project DuOud, whose debut album, Wild Serenade (Label Bleu), combines the twang of that instrument with percolating electronic beats. Singer-guitarist So Kalmery, from Zaire by way of Paris, rounds out the roster. Saturday, July 19, 8:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

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Agenda Teaser

Galleries & Museums
The Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery Water Tower Place
June 16
Galleries & Museums
Works by Ed Paschke, 1969-2004 Ed Paschke Art Center
July 03

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