Raised in Belgium and England by a British Muslim mother and a Moroccan/Egyptian/Palestinian father, Natacha Atlas is a true international citizen, one who's fluent in Arabic, French, Spanish, Serbian and English. Her music career started with gigs as a bellydancer and singer in a salsa band before she joined seminal world beat trance/dance band Transglobal Underground.
Her last album, Ana Hina, focused on traditional Arabic songs with a Turkish band; the title for her latest, Mounqaliba, translates as "state of reversal."
"The state of reversal I speak of is the current state of the world and the current malady of our values, which should be addressed," said Atlas in an e-mail interview from France, where she was touring before coming to the West Coast.
She was speaking more to the current financial breakdown and the banking crisis -- "the bold efforts the present banks have made to control governments are but premonitions of the fate that awaits the people of the world, she predicts" -- and not about shifts in modern music, where stylistic borders and boundaries have been breaking down for some time.
"I don't think you can look at music in that broad of a spectrum," she said. "There are some artists that are a world apart from any direct influences from any current trends, but that being said, there are still plenty of artists that conform and are programmed to do so. I am happy to let go of borders and boundaries, but I am less interested in music becoming homogenized, becoming corporate and a money machine through making everything generic to pacify the masses."
Her music is full of fusion. "For example, listen carefully to the arrangements of 'Maakan' on my current album," she said. "[It] is an interplay between Arabic traditional melodies and scales and a modern interpretation of western classical baroque. [It] clearly demonstrates the marriage between the two. Another example is 'Riverman' [a Nick Drake song], which takes modern English folk music and marries it with rhythms and other subtle Arabic textures."
What shall we expect when she plays the Arcata Theatre Lounge on Friday? "We will be showcasing seven or eight songs from Mounqaliba with my wonderful band: Samy on violin, Andy on bass, George on percussion, Alcyona on piano and Louai on ney. We are fortunate to be able to have a local cellist perform with us as well. Looking forward to seeing you all!"
Next up in the Redwood Jazz Alliance season, a Monday show at the Kate Buchanan Room, with Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist Michael Blake leading a combo that pays tribute to the underappreciated saxophonist/composer Lucky Thompson. Blake is another upper-tier NYC jazzer, one who played in John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, Steven Bernstein's Sexx Mobb and Ben Allison's Man Size Safe when he wasn't leading his own bands. He bringing along a couple of Danes -- pianist Søren Kjærgaard and bassist Jonas Westergaard -- plus drummer Ben Perowsky, another ex-Lounge Lizard. As usual, there's a workshop, this time on Tuesday morning at 10.
On her debut release, Piece, songwriter Kelli Scarr sings mostly melancholy songs in indie pop settings with enough string strumming to qualify as folk. She's been drawing some attention of late, for example doing the All Things Considered "Project Song" series with Moby and garnering an Emmy nomination for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Music and Sound" as composer for the arty HBO documentary In a Dream. One of my faves from Piece, "Break Up," was just "Song of the Day" on Seattle's KEXP. She sings plaintively to a soon-to-be-ex-lover, "Please, please wake up. I'm telling you I want to break up. I could never make it all up, I am creative, but not that much." Great song. And she is that creative. She's playing Monday at the Arcata Playhouse with like-minded folk/pop songwriter Cheyenne Marie Mize from Louisville, a recent visitor to Daytrotter who is also a Will Oldham/Bonnie "Prince" Billy associate. She's touring behind a debut album, Before Lately. More good stuff.
Catch a healthy dose of hip hop Thursday at the Red Fox as That's How We Roll presents The Cult Falloween Tour starring The A Team: Aceyalone and Abstract Rude, who both came up in the Good Life Café scene in L.A. Also on the bill: My-G and Rose, with opening sets by Kitty D from S.F. and CrackadeMix from Oakland.
Friday the Red Fox shifts into trippy electro dance with a World Famous show featuring Random Rab, bringing what he calls "medicine hop," and worldly beats by Govinda (who has played with Thievery Corporation, DJ Spooky and Cheb I Sabbah) along with Santa Cruz's Timonkey.
Coming Tuesday to the Fox: Chicago Afrobeat Project (pretty much self-descriptive) with an opening set by local funksters The Lowdown.
Guitarist Greg Camphuis of The Bump Foundation pulled together a mess of fine local players for a Funk and Soul Review Saturday at Jambalaya. Expect tunes by James Brown, P-Funk, The Meters and Aretha from a band that includes Andy Whitman, Tommy Fitzmaurice, Chris Wixson, Chris Noonan, Isaac Williams and Matt Engel, with Madi Simmons, Leah Crenshaw and Courtney Weaver trading off on vocals.
Again in the hip hop vein: An all-day Saturday celebration of the hip hop arts at the D St. Neighborhood Center (in Arcata). "Mighty 4 Humboldt" is presented by Mighty 4 and Justice by Uniting In Creative Energy, aka J.U.I.C.E., an L.A.-based collective celebrating "10 years of empowering and educating youth." They'll have all the pillers: breakdancers, rap battles and live graf art along with DJs and MCs from the Bay, L.A., Merced and Humboldt.
Once again, Arts Alive! brings all sorts of music into the art, including original and traditional fiddle tunes, waltzes, ballads, blues and rags by The Bayside Quartet at the Morris Graves Museum. Judy Hageman and Brooks Otis play the fiddles, Jim Cornwell is on guitar and mandolin, and Katie Belknap sits at the piano. (They're not all from Bayside.)
At the Lil' Red Lion that AA! Saturday, Scotch Wiggly, Chamber Fables 54 and Mr. Moonbeam play music very different from what you'll hear at the Graves. (And I doubt that any of them is from Bayside.)
An Arts Alive! party at the Red Fox features The Malone and Spilling Nova, with DJ Jeff C spinning, spinning, spinning. (Spilling Nova also plays its psych-funk Thursday at the Jambalaya.)
Blues diva Candye Kane returns to the Riverwood Saturday, once again with Laura Chavez rockin' on lead guitar.
Young old time music phenom Frank Fairfield plays guitar, fiddle and banjo at the Depot Friday, with Brooklyn duo Two Man Gentlemen Band and Humboldt's own Colin Vance.
Mandolinist Drew Emmitt from Leftover Salmon and guitarist Bill Nershi from String Cheese Incident are the core of The Emmitt-Nershi Band, playing New Country Blues (that's their new disc) Monday night at Humboldt Brews. Banjoman Danny Barnes from The Bad Livers opens. Drew is hanging around for a Wednesday show at HumBrews by his semi-related Great American Taxi.
That same Wednesday at the Arcata Playhouse, Gregg Moore leads a combo playing his original soundtrack for the Buster Keaton comedy The General. The stellar band includes Randy Carrico on alto sax and piccolo, Julie Froblom on tenor and soprano saxes, Virginia Ryder clarinet, Bill Allison trumpet and keys, Tim Gray on percussion and Moore on four other instruments (tuba among them). I'm sure the classic silent will come to life.