The British music collective Transglobal Underground incorporates a variety of international sounds into its dancey, trancey electronica, focusing on the snaky melodies of traditional Arabic and Indian styles. At the group’s core are Attiah Ahlan, Natacha Atlas (a former vocalist with Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart), Alex Kasiek (keyboards, guitar), Hamid Mantu (drums, programming) and Count Dubulah (bass/samples).
International Times, the group’s first American release, brings together Atlas’ Arabic-inspired vocals with bhangra rappers, hip-hop beats, violins, tablas and other disparate instrumentation. Though the album traverses the globe for inspiration, its songs blend seamlessly, both internally and collectively. The lead-off track, “Lookee Here,” finds rapper Heitham Al-Sayed trading verses with Atlas, while behind them, tablas, congas and other percussion beat away gracefully. By way of a string section that marries the measured tones of Western classical music with the fluttery arrangements of traditional Eastern music, that segues into “Taal Zaman,” as Atlas’ versatile voice snakes along with the strings through a warm bank of hypnotic percussion and relaxing electronics. Other tracks — including “Dustbowl” and the single “Temple Head” — incorporate such Western pop elements as deep, dubby bass, a funky keyboard, wailing guitar and spoken vocal samples into the ancient, timeless sound of chant. Rarely has a group so gracefully and respectfully blended traditional sounds with overt pop styles.
Although billed as an Atlas solo album, Diaspora was also made by the Transglobal central committee — Mantu, Dubulah and Kasiek co-wrote, produced and perform such strongly tradition-minded songs as the prayerful “Iskanderia” and “Leysh Nat’Arak” (a plea for peace between Arab and Jew) with her.