Natacha Atlas: Jew/Not a Jew

I haven't been keeping up with my "Jew/Not a Jew" series, so in the wake of last week's Natacha Atlas post (and its little comments thread), I'll kick off with her. I have edited her wikipedia page to be a bit clearer about this. The relevant bit now reads:
In a 2003 interview with Muslim Wakeup, she was asked "MWU!: You’ve commented about some of the rumors that are spread about you--that you don’t know Arabic, because of your Jewish heritage, etc.. How does all that make you feel?" She replied: I am a Muslim. With the Jewish thing, it’s one of those things where someone had a grudge against me and wanted to hurt me. My great great grandfather was Jewish, so may be I have 10% or something. But Jews have always been part of Arab society, so it’s not so unusual for someone to find out that they have Jewish blood. At the end of the day, we really are so connected
P.S. Here's some blog comment from Radmila:
I've been a fan of Natacha Altas's music for a long time. However, I've seen her interviewed a couple of times, and she's a bit of an ass. I don't know if it's the language thing, or if she really is an ass for sure. She is a graduate with Honours of The Middle Eastern Sledgehammer School of Etiquette. I thought that perhaps the couple of interviews I saw back in the late ninties were exaggerated memory, but then I read this quote from Natacha on Wiki:

"She has denied claims that her father is a Sephardic Jew; she concedes to being "maybe 10 percent or something." She says the claim her father is Jewish is "one of those things where someone had a grudge against me and wanted to hurt me."

I remember specifically, Natacha riding the "I'm half Jewish and half Arab" train to help her music career. To read the above now,, you've probably never heard of, it's not like it helped anyway. Here's Yalla Chant by Natacha Atlas.


Anonymous said…
I guess I won't have the pleasure of hearing the Yalla song from the beauteous Natacha. It's been removed. Oy.

Did you know Yves Montand, that staple of ultra Gaelic charm, was Jewish? Can't mistake that nose, eh?

And Yaphet Kotto? Did you know that?
bob said…
I'll try and post some Natasha Atlas mp3s before the end of the week! Thanks for all the nose material - I know what you mean!
I actually had a couple of long phone conversations with Natasha Atlas a few years ago. I was trying to get her to come to the Limmud conference (an annual Jewish learning and arts fest). I didn't manage it but we did have an interesting chat about her Jewishness. At the time she was living in Stamford Hill and she told me how she felt a strong sense of connection to the ultra-orthodox Jews there. She wanted to explore her Jewish roots but she didn't seem to know how (not sure I helped). Even at the time though she said she followed Muslim practice (eg fasting on Ramadam).
So I don't think she cynically used her Jewishness, rather her Muslim heritage ultimately burned brighter for her.
Anonymous said…
She doesn't sound Jewish to me so why try to make her so? You didn't even prove your case that her father rather her great grandfather is Jewish.

Her claim that anyone who tries to say she is Jewish is acting on a grudge sounds odd as it makes being Jewish sound like a negative thing. But then again, no one likes being misrepresented.

As for sounding like a bit of an ass, when musicians aren't playing music or actors aren't acting they are not doing what they do best so if you like them it's often better to pay no attention to their interviews.
bob said…
As Keith's comment shows, she has some Jewish heritage. This was picked up on by the media, because part-Jewish, part-Islamic sounds cool and funky to Westerners. But, as she says in the interview, it wasn't at all odd in colonial North Africa. I don't think she cynically manipulated this, though it didn't harm her career.

The bit that jarred is the idea that being called Jewish is a sign of someone bearing a grudge - i.e., as Gibson says, that it's negative. My charitable interpretation is that this was just the way the words came out, and not really what she meant. She was obviously upset by the various claims being made on her identity (or false identity) from lots of different directions.
SnoopyTheGoon said…
Who really cares? The size of the lungs is what really counts, you know ;-)
Anonymous said…
Well, it was quite unusual in North Africa, actually -- if you are from a Moroccan- or Tunisian-Jewish, etc. background and you or your parents lived there you will know what I am talking about -- but in Natacha Atlas's case it is in any case not really relevant.

Her father is a Moroccan Jew; Atlas is, in fact, a pretty common Moroccan-Jewish family name. Her mother is, as far as I know, an Ashkenazi Jew from the UK. She grew in Schaerebeek in Brussels, a pretty Jewish neighbourhood (including, of course, many Moroccan Jewish families). All this stuff of being from a Muslim or an Egyptian or a Palestinian background appears to be made up.

Hey, she can sing whatever she wants, and represent herself however she wants. But if she is seeking to invent family roots in order to create some claim of authenticity, that seems a bit dishonest to me. The important thing is that she began to learn Arabic and, apparently, convert to the Muslim religion. So she is certainly committed to all this!
in view of this information, the question that looms high is: Why did she convert to Islam? Was it for the music? Because from what I have seen in the video, she does not seem to concerned about traditional Islamic values... It inevitably reminded me of Seinfeld's suspicions about why his dentist converted to Judaism:

"Jerry: I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he's converted to Judaism just for the jokes.

Father: And this offends you as a Jewish person.

Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian. And it'll interest you that he's also telling Catholic jokes."
Anonymous said…
Actually she never said that in the Wake Up! interview that Wikipedia lists. I think someone just added that in and because the interview is listed as a source it looks like it came from the interview, but I read it and she never mentions anything about grudges.
I think that's hard that many people asking her about Muslims and Arabic people, more when they make question like this one, How does all that make you feel? I think she's in the right to do what she wants.m10m

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