Natacha AtlasTuesday’s Natacha Atlas concert (Hamer Hall, March 10th) was an interesting experience. Backed by a skilled eight-piece band, the singer roamed widely, too widely, in repertoire, and took quite some time to redeem a diffident, lacklustre first set. Many factors worked against success. Atlas sat on an uncomfortably high stool for the entire first set, book of lyrics to her right, table with glasses, etc, to her left. This position, together with the astounding need to check her own lyrics, meant eye contact was restricted, body movement minimal, and confidence in her difficult. It is no surprise that a singer who appears not to know her own material, will rarely transport either herself or her audience, and this lack of conviction and commitment was aggravated by a tendency to turn, at the end of a song, immediately to her songlist, next set of lyrics, never ‘holding the moment’, or letting the audience see she valued their applause. Her pragmatic manner seemed to indicate the music seemed to mean little to her, and therefore to us. Was this simply lack of preparation? Then, unacceptable.
Atlas’s voice is light, soft, full of attractive Arabic intonations, but rarely becomes dramatic, and her decision to sing few songs in the language of most of her audience led to a general lack of direct meaning and connection. Where translations were provided (rarely), they were casual, rambling, almost unintelligible. Again, lacking in force or wish to persuade.
Some choice of material was mysterious. Nina Simone’s Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair seemed studied, unfelt and quite unsuited to Atlas’s silky approach, and the second set featured two extremely long instrumentals of little relevance to the pieces in which they unexpectedly appeared. She seemed more at home, and sounded more interesting, in Arabic-style material, and here the band’s rhythms and arrangements really came into their own. It must be admitted, though, that Broadway’s Whatever Lola Wants was also a surprising success.
‘World music’ is sometimes a sloppy, woozy catch-all for any song or arrangement you might come up with, but along the way firm delivery, genuineness and individuality can vanish. A narrower, more seriously felt and clearly communicated repertoire, together with stronger stage craft, and this singer’s gifts - and those of her band - would triumph. 

Arts Projects Australia and the Arts Centre present
Natacha Atlas

Venue: the Arts Centre, Hamer Hall | 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne VIC
Dates/Times: 8pm Tue 10 Mar 2009
Duration: 1hr 30min (no interval)

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