Mantra, 2003

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Combining the genetic strains of British and Sephardic Jewish parents and spending her formative years in a Moroccan suburb of Brussels, Natasha Atlas became fluent in French, Spanish and Arabic as well as traditional raq sharki belly dance. She's performed in Arabic and Turkish clubs, then checked into Belgian salsa formation Mandanga and soon caught the limelight as front vocalist and belly dancer for Transglobal Underground. With numerous solo albums under her bra, she's also collaborated on the soundtrack for the Kurt Russell vehicle "Star Gate". Something Dangerous continues Natasha's expansive momentum first explored in Diaspora [1995], then accelerated with Halim [1998], Gedida [1999] and Ayeshteni [2001].

Endowed with a high, sinuous voice perfectly suited for the serpentine embellishments of Egyptian music, Natasha's focus has long since been to combine Middle-Eastern modalities with modern Dance and Ambient Dub styles, not dissimilar to Bally Sagoo's Brit-centric underground annexation of classical Indian vernacular. On Dangerous, the Club element is represented by Mi Julee aka Princess Julianna, Tuup and Count Dubulah of Temple of Sound. Sinead O'Connor appears on "Simple Heart", the Prague Symphony on the otherworldly opener "Adam's Lullaby". From "rub yourself all over me, it's so addictive" Rap/Dub vocals and slam beats to the synthesized strings of desert lounge; from James Brown's "Man's World" -- made over into a hip-swaying, smokily seductive ode to the feminine gender -- to the slow-mo break-dance attitude of "Layali"; from the rasta'fied riddim jibes of Tuup to "the greatest joy belongs to the simple heart" duet with O'Connor and the gorgeous ballad "Le Printemps" above synth pedals; Dangerous is a cannily balanced release that dances on the knife edge of good taste, MP3 appeal and exoticness.

Unlike so many World Beat efforts that, at heart, are mere reruns hoping to spice up their sameness with foreign-culture snippets and sound bytes, the otherness of Dangerous, like its predecessors, is from the inside-out - not surprising when you consider Natasha's background and wholesale immersion in the cultures she represents. Add first-rate production values and you might repeat after me: This is a modern masterpiece that weaves together such disparate styles as Egyptian shaabi, Rap, Pop, Middle-Eastern ballads, tsifeteli beats, Funk, lounge and the unique magic of Natasha's nubile vocals. As Najma's recent parallel effort proved, to pull off this particular recipe isn't as easy at it seems - even for authentic cultural transplants. That's why Something Dangerous deserves special recognition. Think of it as snake charmers setting up shop in one of London's underground rave clubs. They hand out free tickets to a ride in outer space. Gotta go - my turn's coming up. If your zipper hasn't gone undone by the time you reach "Like the last Drop"? You must be travelling feet-first, friend. Check your pulse.