NATACHA ATLAS Ayeshteni (Beggar's Banquet) Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
slouched in a cafe slurping on a massive mochaccino, Natacha Atlas is more concerned with getting in touch with Missy Elliott than with defending her reputation as the most explosive and adventurous Egyptian singer of her generation.
"I was just in New York," Atlas snorts, her gold bangles rattling excitedly, "and as I was whipping around in a cab, I heard that Get Ur Freak On track. I just thought, "Fuck, I've got to work with her.' Someone's trying to work it out now."
It would be a great fit. Just as Elliott pushes at the fringes of hiphop with her technicolour bootie beats, Atlas's Egyptian swing, heard everywhere from Cairo bazaars to hipster T.O. clothing stores, sounds like nothing else in Arabic music.
Her new Ayeshteni disc is the final chapter in the series of Arabic fusion records Atlas has been doing both on her own and with globe-trotting crew Trans-Global Underground.
A back-to-basics album in the sense that Atlas returned to Cairo to record, drawing on the North African city's sound while still using the beats she picked up in Europe, Ayeshteni is the first disc on which all her international influences seem to be able to coexist.
The balance between new-school beats and Old World sounds is as delicate as it's ever been, while her rubbery stab at I Put A Spell On You, mixing swooning strings with chugging beats, is a club smash waiting to happen.
"This is the end of a cycle of records for me," Atlas explains. "As heavy as it sounds, I wanted to establish a better mix between the oriental and the occidental sounds of music.
"I've always been living that double life -- East and West -- and this record is about expressing my duality in a more graceful way. It's more rounded and complete. We couldn't have done it anywhere other than in Egypt."
Despite the fact that she's now living in London, Atlas insists she feels more comfortable back in Cairo, where she was born: "I've got a much better social life there."
Returning home and splitting off from her long-time Trans-Global partnership also gave Atlas a chance to plug herself back into the new school of Egyptian Arabic fusion she helped to create.
"We hooked up with this guy called Mika Sabet," she offers. "He's also Anglo Egyptian, and we have very similar ideas about pushing Egyptian music forward. There aren't that many other people there doing that. A lot of discos just play generic Euro shit. What we wanted to do was something like Nitin Sawney's doing with Indian music -- twist it up and use all the different elements to make something new.
"The problem with working in Cairo is that things work very slowly, if at all. Once you're in the studio, it's fine. Getting everyone together at the same time, though, can take weeks just for one session. People would forget, sleep in, not feel like working or show up and then change their minds and go home. There was a lot of shouting."
Now that her battles with dust storms and lazy orchestras are over, Atlas insists she's through with mixing and matching different sounds from around the globe. A lucrative career as a crooner for hire awaits, but interested producers better have a Brink's truck behind them.
"When I was living in Egypt, I got a lot of offers to come and play in tents during Ramadan," Atlas nods. "The next step is for you to join the circuit and start doing weddings, hotels and become someone's official musician. You make a fuck of a lot of money and live this ridiculous, pampered life, with servants and hired cars, but it's a bit dry.
"On the other side, I get that Roger Taylor guy from Duran Duran asking me to come and sing. I'm a massive fan, but he was a cheap bastard, so I said no."