If you've wondered what world music diva Natacha Atlas would sound like unplugged from her customary electrified shaabi and plugged instead into an all-acoustic milieu, Ana Hina answers that question with multiple phat exclamation marks. The opening Fairuz tune "Ya Laure Habouki" penned by the Rahbani Bros. is set to swampy string orchestra to whisk us straight back into Hercule Poroit's Egypt of the Orient Express. And what a happy time travel it is.
"Bey Ou Benak Eih" goes back to the 1950's flick Maweed Gharam and is similarly lovely in an old-fashioned way. The hip-swaying title tune runs a sinuous accordion against a bouncy rhythm and mixes in a plaintive Ney flute. "La Shou El Haki" returns us to the proven Rahbani/Fairuz recipe, with saucy strings, flitty flutes and a gentle belly-dance rhythm. And so it continues as we follow this album down the Nile into nubile Nubia, with unexpected sightings of an apparently Scottish tune done to piano and strings like a sad "Nature Boy"; and Mexican lyrics from Frida Kahlo's diary on "La Vida Callada"; and the "Hayati Inta Reprise" done up over a Mingus groove and Gamal Al Kordy's accordion suggesting faint Bayou flavors.
But that's still forgetting the Big Band swagger of "El Asil"; the classic Arabian "Lammebada" dating back to 1492; and a few more. This album is a very refreshing outing and welcome break from Natacha's high-energy, Rap-enhanced persona. It's akin to hearing Sting do Jazz ballads over the closing credits of major motion pix to realize just how good he is at that. Natasha Atlas to Mazeeka Ensemble strings? You bet. It goes down like silk, hombre. Ana Hina is a real slow burner and truly enchanting, seductively sexy discovery. Who is your mama? Natacha, baby. Definitely.