Fatima Al Qadiri‘s latest offering, Brute, is a work of haunting simplicity executed with a masterful control of retro(ish) electronic sounds and a light sprinkling of “beats” as garnish – something of a trademark sound for the Kuwaiti raised artist. The sonic narrative is rooted in political commentary, heavily referencing movements like Black Lives Matter, with a specific focus on the poorly accounted for actions of an authoritarian and brutish police force. There’s a juxtaposition of literal and suggestive sound techniques used to layer up the experience, and Qadiri’s minimal play with these references serves to drive the album’s point home without being pastiche. Sound collages of news report type pieces punctuate the music that plays out between, like a cinematic score to a political thriller.
I won’t say that I think it is her best work, but it’s an interesting and rewarding album that grows with each listen. It is also appropriately in line with the artist’s body of work. I would have liked more surprises sonically, but I know as artists we identify with certain tools and they become a part of us. Sometimes a radical departure isn’t part of the process – what’s important is developing the content.
I became familiar with Fatima Al Qadiri through the video game music documentary series Digging In The Carts. Around that time I got into her debut album Asiatisch. With a similar sound pallete to Brute, but perhaps more immediate and engaging musicality, Asiatisch quickly became a new favourite. So, keen as I was to hear Qaidiri’s new release, I read a review while waiting for the album to arrive. I was extremely disappointed in the reviewer for one particular sentence.
“Fairlight vocals and ultra-synthetic drums were fresh when James Ferraro essayed them on 2011’s landmark Far Side Virtual, but now, in the wake of Oneohtrix Point Never, Visionist and others, they are quickly becoming electronic underground cliché.”
We are once again met with a familiar conundrum – a man being given credit as “fresh” or innovative for using retro sounds – which, it’s worth noting, have been in widespread use across numerous genres since the technology was available. Conversely, a woman is criticised for sounding cliched or stale, even as she has been honing – one could even say claiming – this sound her entire career, even before the aforementioned Ferraro track.
Regardless of the reviewer’s intention, this small example of language highlights the ingrained sexism in how both audiences and media under-appreciate works by women compared to those of men, particularly women who are making music that subverts trends in genres occupied by a majority male roster. Qadiri’s compositional style, her use of theme and narrative has been completely ignored in favour of a shallow overview of surface sound. Her background as a young woman growing up in the Gulf War and the influence this experience has had on her approach to sound, music and subject is all completely overlooked.