Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Review of Natacha Atlas' "Ana Hina"
Here's a link to a very laudatory review of Natacha Atlas' Ana Hina, by Gérald Arnaud, published by Africultures. Unfortunately for the monolingual reader, it is published in French.
It's a very useful review, but without wanting to detract from its overall worthiness, I'd like to quibble with a couple details:
Natacha was not raised in Morocco, but in the Moroccan and Jewish districts of Belgium.
The author claims that in Egypt during the 1920s, at the same time that the Muslim Brothers were inventing "ethnocentric Islamism," "music brothers" were creating the exact opposite: a culture that mixed harmoniously the traditions of the West and the East. I don't particularly care for this rather careless binary opposition: "intolerant" Brothers vs. "tolerant" and "open-minded" musicians. The Muslim Brothers, for all their faults, played an important role in opposing, and overthrowing, the venal and corrupt Egyptian monarchy which kowtowed to the British colonialists. In addition, some of the renowned Egyptian musicians who were responsible for incorporating "Western" sounds into Egyptian music were considered tainted by their association with the Egyptian aristocracy, most particularly Mohamed Abdel Wahab. Moreover, the musical mixing of East and West was not a "harmonious" process, but one that was highly contested and argued over. Abdel Wahab was often considered to have gone too far towards Westernization in the process, whereas Umm Kulthum was much more cautious about introducing such elements. (See Virginia Danielson's "The Voice of Egypt": Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century for an account of some of these debates.)
Arnaud also claims that reviewers have trashed Ana Hina in the US and the UK--but I can't find any evidence of this. Only very favorable reviews, like this one from the BBC, which states: "Ana Hina is set to be one of the year's finest albums." I agree.