In the second in our WOMAD series, Natacha Atlas talks to Scott Kara of being a 'human Gaza Strip'

Key Points:

Natacha Atlas prefers to let her Facebook page do the talking. On there you will find postings about "things I think people really need to see".

Things like Zeitgeist, The Movie - in short, a film exploring social corruption and what's in store for humanity.

"In fact," says the Anglo-Egyptian singer, who visits next month for WOMAD, "I say it is essential for mankind's evolution and survival that you watch the Zeitgeist movie and share this information with as many people as you can."

She's not being difficult or rude, it's just that she genuinely struggles to express her thoughts about her music that has covered many different styles - from traditional Arabian music, to world fusion, to drum 'n' bass - since the early 90s. She released her 1995 debut solo album, Diaspora, but many were turned on to this exotic woman with a vast vocal range from her work with British electronica outfit Transglobal Underground, also in the mid-90s.

"But", she says with a raspy giggle, "I don't talk about myself. I don't like to talk about my music much. I like to talk about other things that are far more important."

Take her response to the fact Transglobal Underground's excellent Psychic Karaoke still stands up today. "I don't know because I haven't heard it in ages," she says with another laugh.

And she's hesitant when explaining why she's such a versatile vocalist.

"Possibly because I have a duality that gives me a slight advantage in the sense that I have a foot in both territories - the West and the Middle East - so maybe that gives me an extra door to go through to draw influence from. Maybe ..."

The 44-year-old was born in Belgium, to a father with Egyptian heritage, a British mum, speaks fluent French, Spanish, Arabic and English, and calls her herself "a human Gaza strip", which reflects not only her heritage but her diverse musical approach.

Of the recent conflict in Gaza she simply says it's upsetting.

"But," sensing the chance for one of her rants, as she refers to them, "I would like to see some very big artists, like Coldplay and Madonna, do a big relief concert for the children of Gaza. Like Bob Geldof did for Africa. But do you know who I think the true terrorists are? Not those ones that people think they are, the true terrorists are the ones wearing US$5000 ($10,000) suits and work in the highest positions of finance, politics and business."

Back to the music. Her latest album, Ana Hina, is a tribute to the "golden era" of Arabic music during the late 50s and early 60s, when she says cities like Cairo and Beirut were "the Paris of the Middle East".

"They were very cosmopolitan, it was influenced by Hollywood, that was the golden era of movies, and you never saw any women wearing veils. It was a really exciting place to be at the time, and Egypt was at the core of arts and media so the rest of the Middle East was very influenced by what was going on in Egypt.

"It wasn't so repressed, and there was a sense of more freedom at the time and more creative expression, but with dignity and graceful nobility, and with a freedom of expression that is more restricted now."

Once again, steering clear of talk of music, she moves on to more pressing issues like Muslim women wearing veils in the present day. She says her uncle, a musician who played during this golden era, remembers when women wore normal, 50s clothes - "very dignified" - rather than the all-encompassing veils and burqa garments.

"Back then they weren't repressed and hiding themselves, and he said he feels that [now] it's almost a mask in order to hide deception."

She is quick to point out that that is his point of view, but she agrees with him to a certain degree and by way of explanation she refers back to Zeitgeist.

"You will find all the answers to what you ever wanted to know about what the hell is going on now; it's all in this movie. I want everyone to see it because we are living in an unsustainable system which is the monetary system, and that is the whole problem. Money is created by debt, and then what do people do when they are in debt? They submit to employment to pay off the debt which is a form of modern slavery, and this is why the world is in such a mess.

"Like I say, you can see it all in the Zeitgeist movie. There you go, I've said my piece."

And with this we do get back to her music, and one song in particular from Ana Hina - the beautiful cover of the song Black Is the Colour, the most famous version of which was done by Nina Simone.

Atlas combined the minimal Simone version with a medieval mood, and her own Middle Eastern stylings, to come up with her own take.

"Through my music I'm just trying to cheer people up, really. I get to talk about the true terrorists when I do interviews, because I'm not going to rant on about that in my songs because I want to give people joy when they listen. Music is meant to uplift you and make you dream.

"When I listen to music I like to forget about the fact that we're enslaved."

LOWDOWN
Who: Natacha Atlas, singer
What: Arabic electronica
Where & when: WOMAD, Brooklands Park, New Plymouth, March 13-15
Essential albums: Diaspora (1995); Gedida (1999); Ayeshteni (2001); Ana Hina (2008); and with Transglobal Underground, Pyschic Karaoke (1997)