By Ken Clarke
Arabic and European vocal virtuoso Natacha Atlas’s ninth recording is further proof that music is the universal language. Mounqaliba roughly translates from Arabic as “in a state of reversal” and has certain political connotations. Aside from several English language sound bite interludes from social theorist Peter Joseph, the entire album’s lyrics (save one cover song) are sung in Arabic and their meaning is lost on the average western ear. That’s quite alright though, as the music and Atlas’s voice are stunning.
Lush string arrangements fusing Arabic and western themes pervade the majority of the album, courtesy of a 20-piece Turkish ensemble and a chamber orchestra. Rounding out the mix are contributions from jazz pianist Zoe Rahman and violinist Samy Bishai who co-wrote on the majority of the 18 tracks with Atlas. A few covers are explored including an inspired take on the 400-year-old “Muwashah Ozkourini,” arranged by Atlas and Bishai in an east meets west fashion.
Without a doubt the most impressive aspect of Mounqaliba is Atlas’s celestial voice weaving sensuously throughout every track like a delicately played instrument — quite touching in any language.