(Arabic: ????? ??????; born (1964-03-20)20 March 1964) is a Belgian singer known for her fusion of Arabic and Western electronic music, particularly hip-hop. She once termed her music "cha'abi moderne" (modern popular music). Her music has been influenced by many styles including Arabic, hip hop, drum 'n' bass and reggae.Atlas began her career as part of the world fusion group Transglobal Underground. In 1995, she began to focus on her solo career with the release of Diaspora
. She has since released seven solo albums and been a part of numerous collaborations. Her version of "Mon Amie La Rose" became a surprise success in France, reaching 16 on the French Singles Charts in 1999. She is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Conference Against Racism.
Atlas was born to a father of Moroccan, Egyptian, and Palestinian ancestry who was born in Jerusalem and a British mother who had converted to Islam. Her paternal grandfather was born in Egypt, but grew up in Israel, immigrating to Europe at age 15. She concedes to being "maybe 10 percent Jewish or something." Atlas says the claim that her father is purely Jewish and not Arab is "one of those things where someone had a grudge against me and wanted to hurt me. My great-great-grandfather was Jewish. But Jews have always been part of Arab society, so it’s not so unusual for someone to find out that they have Jewish blood. At the end of the day, we really are so connected."Atlas grew up in Laken, a neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium with a large Moroccan population. After her parents separated, Atlas went to live in Northampton, England with her mother. Atlas learned several languages, including Arabic, French, English, and Spanish, and has used them all in the course of her career.
Early career and Transglobal Underground
Atlas returned to Belgium at age 24 and began her career with two jobs: belly dancing and the lead singer of a Belgian salsa band. In April 1989, she made her recording début as guest vocalist on Balearic beat-band ¡Loca!'s "Encantador" (Nation Records). In 1991, Atlas co-wrote/recorded the ¡Loca! single "Timbal" and co-wrote/guested with Jah Wobble's Invaders of the Heart composing five tracks for their Rising Above Bedlam
album (Oval Records). Through recording with ¡Loca!, she met Nation-labelmates Transglobal Underground (TGU), a British ethnic electronica band with a Middle Eastern/South Asian focus. At the time, TGU had a top 40 hit, "Templehead", and Atlas became their lead singer / belly dancer.
Most of Atlas' albums have been produced by TGU. She continues to focus on her Middle Eastern roots, as the titles of her albums imply: Diaspora
(1997) (in honour of Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez), Gedida
(1998) and Ayeshteni
(2001).In 1999, Atlas collaborated with David Arnold on the song "One Brief Moment". The single featured a cover version of the James Bond theme song from the film You Only Live Twice
. Two years earlier, Atlas had collaborated with Arnold on the album Shaken and Stirred
, recording the song "From Russia with Love" for the eponymous film (originally performed by Matt Monro).2000 saw her collaborate with Jean Michel Jarre for the track "C'est La Vie" on his album Métamorphoses
. The track was released as a single.Due to her French-language tracks, Atlas is now quite popular in France. In the U.K., on the other hand, she has not experienced the same amount of success. She is not very happy about the way her music is perceived in the UK: "Someone from the New Musical Express rang us about a feature we're to do with them and said 'We don't want it to be about the multi-cultural angle'. In other words that fad is over. And I'm personally insulted... what other... angle is there for us? I get sick of it all."In 2003, Atlas provided vocals for the Kolo folk dance song "'Ajde Jano" on Nigel Kennedy and Kroke's album, East Meets East
. In 2005, Atlas contributed the song "Just Like A Dream" (from Something Dangerous
) to the charity album Voyces United for UNHCR
.Her music has been used in a number of soundtracks. Her song "Kidda" was featured on the Sex and the City 2
soundtrack and in the 2005 video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
on Radio del Mundo. In 2003, her voice is heard in Hulk in the song "Captured". Additionally, her song "Bathaddak" is one of the songs included in the 2007 Xbox 360 exclusive video game Project Gotham Racing 4
. Atlas was originally billed to star in and provide the soundtrack to the film Whatever Lola Wants
, directed by Nabil Ayouch. However, shooting delays caused Atlas to only be involved in the film's soundtrack. Her song "Gafsa" (Halim
, 1997) was used as the main soundtrack during the Korean film Bin-Jip
(also known as 3-Iron
) (2004) by Kim Ki-Duk. She participated in the piece "Light of Life (Ibelin Reprise)" for the soundtrack of Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven
.In 2007, Atlas collaborated with Belinda Carlisle for Belinda's seventh album Voila
. She contributed additional vocals on songs "Ma Jeunesse Fout Le Camp," "La Vie En Rose", "Bonnie et Clyde" and "Des Ronds Dans L'Eau." Voila
was released via Rykodisc in the U.K. on 5 February 2007 and in the U.S. the following day.The 2007 film Brick Lane
features four songs with vocals by Atlas, "Adam's Lullaby", "Running Through the Night", "Love Blossoms" and "Rite of Passage". On 23 May 2008 Atlas released a new album, Ana Hina
, which was well received by critics. In 2008, two of Atlas' songs, "Kidda" and "Ghanwa Bossanova", were used in Shamim Sarif's romantic comedy about two women, I Can't Think Straight
.In 2008, she sang lead on the song, "Habibe" off of the long awaited Peter Gabriel led project, Big Blue Ball
.On 20 September 2010 Atlas released Mounqaliba
. Co-produced by Samy Bishai, it explored classical instrumentation, jazz and traditional Arabic styles and was inspired by the poems of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. She is also composing the music for Francoise Charpat's upcoming film.In May 2013, Natacha Atlas released Expressions: Live in Toulouse
an album which showcased her expressive voice using largely orchestral arrangements augmented by Middle Eastern percussion.
In 1999, Atlas married Syrian kanun player Abdullah Chhadeh. The couple divorced in 2005. Atlas is now in a relationship with British Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai. The couple divide their time between London and France.Atlas has said in the past that she is "technically Muslim" and that she identifies with Sufism, but says that "these days I prefer to say that I'm Anglo-Middle Eastern and leave the religion out of it." She is, however, open to other forms of spirituality because "it's important to be tolerant".In 2001, she was appointed by Mary Robinson as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Conference Against Racism. Robinson chose Atlas because "she embodies the message that there is a strength in diversity. That our differences – be they ethnic, racial or religious – are a source of riches to be embraced rather than feared".Atlas is a proponent of The Zeitgeist Movement. She included clips from Zeitgeist: Addendum
in her 2010 album Mounqaliba
Atlas uses her multi-ethnic background when singing lyrics that often are intertwined with phrases from the Quran. She personally calls herself a "human Gaza Strip", reflecting her diverse Judaeo-Islamic background and thoughts relating to the Muslim and Jewish world. In her music, Atlas makes many political statements regarding Islam and Judaism and often takes a middle ground approach advocating for peace and harmony. For example, her lyrics say "Why are we fighting/When we’re all together/Let’s return to peace/Let’s make peace, we are brothers" (from her song "Laysh Nata’arak").