Natacha Atlas - Mounqaliba

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Natacha Atlas
Six Degrees Records (

When I was a graduate student I read a 19th Century treatise by Brooks Adams (Henry's brother, John Quincy's grandson) entitled “The Law of Civilization and Decay” wherein he claimed that all great commercial civilizations must decline and fall, that the quest for wealth always replaced the spiritual values that spurred the initial growth of the society. He believed the United States was a civilization on the rise, but would soon start into the decay portion of the cycle as greed grew more prominent. He also believed the cycle was immutable natural law like the law of gravity.

Mounqaliba, subtitled "In a State of Reversal," shares some of those same sentiments. In an interview on the label's website, Atlas stated, "What I attempt to convey is a sense of reversal. Reversal of the state of society, reversal in our political and belief systems, reversal of spirituality in favour of materialism."

Atlas uses natural sounds, electronics, jazz, and Arabic classical forms to convey her message. Methods range from solo accordion to the full Kemper String Orchestra of Istanbul. She has a beautiful voice, often ethereal, floating over the accompaniment as if unattached to the sounds around her.

The sole song in English is a cover of Nick Drake's "River Man" which contains the lyric
Betty said she prayed today
For the sky to blow away
Or maybe stay
She wasn't sure.
That seems to capture well the dichotomies presented throughout the record.

The songs are interspersed with sound clips from the futurist Jacque Fresco and filmmaker Peter Joseph, both of whom talk about the dangers they see in the current capitalist economies and how a brighter future could be mapped if the right choices are made.

The record is a fascinating mix of dark but beautiful sounds that have plenty of despair, yet still offer a glimmer of hope and issue a challenge to make positive changes. - Greg Harness

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