Natacha Atlas at the 2011 Luminato Festival (Toronto)

June 22, 2011 at 2:04 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t really believe in synchronicity, but a week back I picked up a copy of Now magazine and the programme for the Luminato festival fell out. I picked it up. Ten minutes later as I waited for the light to turn green, I happened to glance at the programme which was on the passenger seat. Flipping through I discovered that Ms. Atlas was not only playing a show in Toronto, but it was a free show. Down for that.

I got to the show around 1:50 to discover the park was pretty much empty (it didn’t help that the area in front of the stage had no cover for such an astonishingly hot day). People were hovering around the outskirts under the trees. 

Me? I flopped down in front of the stage and sat for a while in the heat listening to the opening band, then fearing my pale unsun- blocked skin might not survive I beat a hasty retreat to the Mill Street enclosure for a refreshing beer.

At 2:05 , Toronto’s Minor Empire took the stage. Minor Empire are a relatively new Toronto band who’ve just released their debut CD Second Nature. Fronted by singer Ozgu Ozman, the band blend traditional Turkish sounds with western psychedelia and electronica. It’s probably not to everyone’s liking, but the music had a hypnotic sway in the sweltering heat. Slowly, slowly, the crowd warmed (sorry about that), and by the end of their forty minute set, many people had ventured from the trees to get a better look.

While the vocals and rhythm was very effective, the band occasionally moved into a more trippy sound, and for me, lost their way; however, those moments were not the centre part of their seductive set.

At 3:10, it was time for the main event. Natacha Atlas

First of all, I should thank Curtis Price of Collective Action Notes for turning me on to Natacha Atlas. Years ago he gave me a Trans-Global Underground CD, and I fell in love with the vocals. I don’t have all of Natacha’s albums, but I have most of them (picked up the new one Mounqaliba at the show)

I’m not going to be able to name the songs in the eighty  minute set, but in addition to the many Arabic songs, including two by Lebanese superstar Fairuz, she sang in French and English, ending the set with her version of screaming Jay Hawkins “I put a Spell on you.”   

It’s really hard to explain how this music affects me, but there;s just something which draws me to my feet.  I stood about twenty feet from Natacha loving every moment of the set. If you’ve never seen her, she has a magnetic stage presence: Graceful and enchanting. I don’t believe in God, but I’ve oftne thought that the voices of certain singers might make for a good argument. Do yourself a favour here.  

Found this video from the show



  1. Richard S. said,

    Nice review… And funny how TGU was introduced to you by a guy at Collective Action Notes. I guess they were sort of left-leaning, but was there anything in their sound that had particular appeal to council communists? 🙂 As I was saying when you announced this show, I first heard TGU in about 1993. I cannot remember at all how I heard of them, but I remember paying a special high price for that album, because it would be a while before their stuff would come out in the U.S…. But I was into all of the Nation Records bands coming out in 1993-95. I saw Loop Guru, a while back. And I’ve also seen Cheb-i-Sabbah who’s done similar fusion music to TGU (though much more techno than Natacha solo could be). And going way back, I’ve seen Dead Can Dance, a few times; I think they may have prepared me for all the other fusion. 🙂 (Lisa Gerrard could be another such heavenly voice – though maybe her heavenliness is a bit too deliberate.) But strangely enough, wow, I never caught Natacha live. I’m going to have to one of these days…

  2. fischerzed said,

    We had similar tastes in music, but he turned me on to a lot of things I didn’t know about as well as a lot of the On-U Sound material. I had seen Tackhead/Mark Stewart in the mid -80s and they were very fine.

    Was listening to Jah Wobble’s Rising above Bedlam this morning while working and Natacha appears on that too. Very nice.

    • Richard S. said,

      Oh, that’s right, she was on Rising Above Bedlam… I looked up the release date, and that was way back in 1991. Her work with Wobble preceded Transglobal Underground!

      She was also on Wobble’s Take Me to God a few years later… That album actually introduced me to the Pakistani-British singer Najma, who is very much worth listening to. Najma also hooked up with Robert Plant (in more ways than one – I read that she was engaged to him for a couple of years), but I heard her first through Jah Wobble.

      Mark Stewart… I heard a little of his solo work, but mostly, I just think of The Pop Group, which struck me as avant-jazz through some kind of dub filter, with industrial noise thrown in. 🙂 Oh, and interesting political lyrics, of course.

  3. fischerzed said,

    If you can find it, Mark Stewart’s Learning to Cope with Cowardice is worth a listen. There is an amazing version of Blake’s Jerusalem there. I’ll look into Najma.

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