15 Minutes

She may be big mates with [a]Page & Plant[/a] and actually hail from Belgium, but there's no reason to doubt [a]Natacha Atlas[/a]' pedigree as a sophisticated Arabic chanteuse....

She may be big mates with [a]Page & Plant[/a] and actually hail from Belgium, but there’s no reason to doubt [a]Natacha Atlas[/a]’ pedigree as a sophisticated Arabic chanteuse. Once she shook her belly onstage with [a]Jah Wobble[/a], then she provided soaring, mysteriously emotive vocals for Trans-Global Underground. Now she’s stepping out with her third album ‘Gedida’, carrying on in her quest to seduce our resistant Western ears by skilfully weaving modern drum’n’bass beats into traditional North African string arrangements.

Somewhat disappointingly, it’s the moments when Atlas clings closely to the conventions of Arabic scales and melodies that are the most captivating. As when, finger cymbals and belly beads twitching agreeably in time, she wails alluringly over sumptuous strings in ‘Aqabe’, or liberates her lungs to resonate in time with snake-charming percussion in ‘Mistaneek’.

Less successful are her attempts to adopt the trappings of westernised hip – she raps on ‘Bastet’ and adopts a trip-hop warble for ‘Biladi’. However, she traverses the map beautifully with a French cover of ‘Mon Amie La Rose’ and ‘One Brief Moment’ (achieved in collaboration with David Arnold) has the epic, cinematic sweep of a Bond theme.

‘Gedida’ is a lulling, undulating record which, while failing to close any continental gaps, is as haunting and precious as a bauble brought back from some exotic holiday.