Fatima Al Qadiri's Medieval Femme: Between the golden era of our past and the fantasy of our future
Experimental Kuwaiti musician and conceptual artist Fatima Al Qadiri is well-known in the world of electronic music for making music that is not only unique, but genre-bending and subversive, taking you on a fantastical journey akin to a having vivid dream or drug-induced trip.
With three studio albums, five EPs and the film score of award-winning 2019 French film Atlantique under her belt, Fatima is one of only a few electronic artists from the Gulf region whose work has been massively successful on an international level.
Her latest album, Medieval Femme, which was released earlier this year, transports listeners back to the Medieval courts of the Islamic Empire; Fatima cleverly uses her synthesiser to produce the sounds of classical instruments such as the flute and lute, while incorporating electronic notes that add a futuristic element to the music. What you get is an otherworldly album that invokes nostalgia and longing for the Arab world’s bygone classical era.
"Her latest album, Medieval Femme, which was released earlier this year, transports listeners back to the Medieval courts of the Islamic Empire; Fatima cleverly uses her synthesiser to produce the sounds of classical instruments such as the flute and lute, while incorporating electronic notes that add a futuristic element to the music"
Fatima told The New Arab that the album title Medieval Femme came out of the blue in 2016, and thinking it would be a good name for an album, she quickly wrote it down.
Later after that, she picked up the anthology Classical Poems by Arab Women, edited by Abdullah al-Udhari, which features poetry from the pre-Jahiliyya to the Andalusian period. This was the major inspiration behind the album.
“I began to observe a mood linking many of the poems, a kind of melancholic yearning which in turn reminded me of my youth in Kuwait,” explains Fatima. “I used to read memoirs of ancient writers when I was a teenager and that era seemed especially fantastical in terms of architectural wonder and sumptuous garden design. Especially for a kid from a dry desert country, the idea of the gardens of Alcazar in Seville for instance seemed futuristic somehow.
"I was also depressed and yearning for another reality, so it was an escape to read and fantasise about the past. It also made me realise this melancholic yearning permeates through all of the Arab culture and especially poetry, even today.”
Written and produced between her homeland of Kuwait and residence in Los Angeles, Fatima produced the album using basic electronic equipment. “It was all made on my laptop, there were no live instruments recorded aside from my voice and one vocal sample from YouTube. I did that on purpose because I wanted the album to feel even more unreal and inorganic,” she reveals.
In the track Tasakuba, Fatima brings the poetry of seventh-century poet Al-Khansaa back to life, as Qasmuna is named after Qasmuna bint Ismail, one of only three known Jewish Arab-language female poets who lived in Andalusia during the Medieval period.
Zandaq is perhaps the dreamiest of all the tracks on the album, as what sounds like a flute and a lute are played against the background of chirping birds, transporting you on a tranquil walk through the Islamic gardens of a Medieval palace. It then evolves into a more traditional-sounding Arabic scale before ending once more with dreamlike notes.
This dreaminess exists on most of the album, as it titillates between a sense of melancholy and a fantastical future. However, while there is a deep sense of loss and longing in the music, it is not by any means depressing. Rather each track grows and evolves to invoke a sense of hope and possibility for the future.
"This dreaminess exists on most of the album, as it titillates between a sense of melancholy and a fantastical future"
“To me, there are futuristic moments in the record but also it's a fantasy. Fantasies are futuristic because they imagine the impossible. All my albums come with a story, and nearly all of them have some connection to the past even if it's just autobiographical,” says Fatima. “I wanted the record to sound like a distant dream.”
Electronic and synth music is still a relatively new genre in the Gulf region where most of the local population listen to mainstream Arabic music or Western pop, dance music, and hip-hop, and up until recently, homegrown electronic music artists like Fatima have found success outside of the region.
However, the Gulf has a rich cultural history of folk music, something that she hopes she can tap into in the future.
“I've met a few local fans over the years but I most likely have a small audience in the region. Khaleejis love regional pop music most of all, electronic dance music in the form of pop song remixes is definitely becoming huge. But electronic music on its own is still fairly niche and commands a modest audience in comparison to other genres,” she explains.
“I think growing up in Kuwait during my lifetime was very inspirational on multiple levels, but there's no direct link to Kuwaiti heritage in my music process at this stage. Hopefully one day I'll have the opportunity to work with Kuwaiti folk musicians.”
Up next for Fatima Al Qadiri? She recently produced the score of the upcoming Spanish horror movie La Abuela which comes out in early 2022. After her success with the film score of Atlantique which contributed to the film receiving Cannes’ prestigious Grand Prix award in 2019, Fatima has firmly cemented her place as a sought-after music producer in the world of film.
Yousra Samir Imran is a British Egyptian writer and author who is based in Yorkshire. She is the author of Hijab and Red Lipstick, being published by Hashtag Press in the UK in October 2020
Follow her on Twitter: @UNDERYOURABAYA