It’s doubtful if Natacha Atlas felt the winds of change blowing in the Middle East at the time she was recording her latest offering, but listening to the songs (sung in English, French and Arabic) you feel that she was concerned about the religious contradictions and the state of distress in her ancestral lands.
In between the songs, there are spoken snippets from President Barack Obama and Zeitgeist movement founder Peter Joseph which point at the need to “pay attention” to the Middle East and its problems. There are interesting sonic textures between songs, and Atlas offers a variety of sounds that include traditional Arabic sounds, a full orchestra and even jazz-tinged piano courtesy of pianist Zoe Rahman, including a very personal take on Nick Drake’s “River Man.” Various reviewers scoffed at her musical eclecticism on the album, but this to me smacks of purism—some critics just cannot accept that Atlas can go across musical genres with such ease, but for the open-minded listener, this album is truly a gem.
Incidentally, the disc’s title translates as “State of Reversal.” Whatever she was thinking about at the time (Corruption in the government? Religious backward thought?), it is now a timely disc when we marvel at the current events in that troubled region. Regardless of the aftermath, Mounqualiba is definitely a memorable addition to Atlas’ noble canon. (Ernest Barteldes)