Release Date: May 6, 2014
Record label: Hyperdub
Fatima Al Qadiri's vast digital worlds are an intriguing mix of fantasy, reality and cultural commentary. Her Desert Strike EP spawned pondering column inches about her real-life experience of military occupation in Kuwait, while her videos are like Second Life day trips, blending fantasy luxury spa treatment centres with hip-hop imagery. Part of the Fade to Mind/Night Slugs collective, who have carved a stylised niche in garage- and grime-inspired club music, Al Qadiri's sound has been dubbed "distroid" ("a combination of disturbing, dystopian, android and steroid" by cultural sage Adam Harper, and certainly has the haunting elements of early dubstep, and instrumental grime and on this, her debut, she turns her attention to China, and plays with the concept of orientalism and western perceptions of the far-east giant.
Born in Senegal, raised in Kuwait and now living in Brooklyn, New York, Fatima Al Qadiri's debut album is a thought-provoking melange of cultural references and associations: the album's title is the German word for Asian; the album is conceptualized as a virtual tour through an imagined futuristic China as seen through Western eyes; and the opening track, "Shanzhai (For Shanzhai Biennial)," is a cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U" sung by Helen Feng of FakeMusicMedia, with (apparently) nonsensical Mandarin lyrics. Said album opener is a red herring, however, as the remainder of Asiatisch is a solid slab of sinogrime — Chinese-inflected grime. The use of Chinese musical scales and library instruments is augmented by Chinese spoken-word poetry on several of the album's tracks.
Notions of place and displacement feature strongly in the works of Fatima Al Qadiri. Her clearly realized Desert Strike EP, which was based around the experience of playing a videogame based around Operation Desert Storm—an event she lived through as a child growing up in Kuwait—and Asiatisch arrives with a new cloud of conceptual thought hovering over it. Now based in Brooklyn, Al Qadiri uses her debut full-length as a lens to refract the skewed manner in which Asian motifs have sunk into Western pop culture.
"I've never been to China. I only know what the West is telling me about China," Fatima Al Qadiri recently told Pitchfork while discussing her debut album. That cultural disconnect is the central tenet of Asiatisch, a record that takes the listener on a journey through "Imagined China"—the country as portrayed in Western media. Asiatisch aims to expand on sinogrime, a loose thread of grime where artists who knew very little about China clumsily appropriated Eastern scales and instrumentation.
Senegal-born, Kuwait-raised, New York-based producer Fatima Al Qadiri works in the opposite direction of most artists' discographies by making her third substantial release, following the Genre-Specific Xperience (UNO) and Desert Strike (Fade to Mind) EPs, her least personal one yet. The former connected materialistic aspects of Middle Eastern and Western cultures while dipping into several strains of dance music, as well as some of the styles she heard in her youth. The baleful latter conveyed the desensitized, escapist feeling she had as a preteen playing a Gulf War-themed video game shortly after living through the conflict.
The presence of China may loom large over various aspects of western society but its music hasn’t received the attention or been assimilated as much as that of some other non-European countries. That’s where Senegal-born, Kuwait-raised and London/New York-based musician, producer and visual artist Fatima Al Qadiri steps in. On Asiatisch, her debut album for Hyperdub, she has delivered a piece of work that blends influences and musical traits, both ancient and contemporary, from different cultural and social outposts.
Fatima Al Qadiri may have played her part in last winter’s grime production war, releasing ‘Knight Fare (post-war dub)’ as a mischievous coda to the infighting, but right now she seems further from the riled-up production of September than anyone on the scene. Desert Strike, from 2012, was proof that the Brooklyn-based Kuwaiti can take a high-brow concept and furnish it with heady atmosphere, earning ‘Hydra’ a premier spot at the front-end of Oneman’s Solitaire Vol.1. But since then, her solo productions have veered away from the attack of her grime influences, growing more and more cerebral.
On two EPs prior to this debut album, New York producer and visual artist Fatima Al Qadiri has applied her foreboding electronic futurism to obscure global influences like Muslim worship songs and Gregorian trance. ‘Asiatisch’, however, is even more pretentious, pairing instrumental UK grime with Asian flourishes to explore the relationship between the west and China. There is a cover of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, sung in Mandarin, where blunt mallet sounds replace drum kicks, while flutes haunt songs like ‘Szechuan’ and ‘Shenzen’.
Western imaginings of foreign cultures fascinate New York-based musician and conceptual artist Fatima Al Qadiri on her debut album, a collection of songs that mines the tensions between the ancient and modern in Chinese culture. Al Qadiri - who has never been to China - was inspired to put her own spin on it by insipid, Disneyfied portrayals of the country in Hollywood films that say more about American culture than they do about China. This being instrumental music (save for a nonsensical cover of Nothing Compares 2 U featuring singer Helen Fong), Al Qadiri's Chinese fantasies are decidedly abstract and in line with the dreamy, sci-fi approach to production of past EPs Desert Strike and Genre-Specific Xperience.
For an artist releasing their first LP, you don’t get much braver than opening with a four-and-a-half minute cover of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ sung in nonsensical Mandarin and sounding as though it was recorded in a karaoke-bar-cum-monastery. For Fatima Al Qadiri, this is par for the course. ‘Shanzai’ is the baptism of fire that welcomes the listener to Asiatisch, Al Qadiri’s debut album on Hyperdub, and one that sets out to fill its listener with that familiar-not-familiar feeling from the very first digitised teardrop.
'Shanzhai', the opening track of Fatima Al Qadiri's debut album Asiatisch, takes its title from a Chinese term used to describe counterfeit Western goods. Literally it translates to "mountain village", evoking both the outlaw nature of the industry and the crudeness of its reproductions - copyright-evading spoonerisms of sportswear brands and fast food chains. While such knock-offs are commonplace, there is perhaps more craft and sophistication to some imitations than that definition grants.
Fatima Al Qadiri — Asiatisch (Hyperdub)Asiatisch is Senegal-born and Kuwait-based artist Fatima Al Qadiri’s sonic portrayal of an imagined China, something that immediately feels like a risky foray. Her jumping-off point is a microgenre known as sinogrime, pioneered by the likes of Wiley and Kode9 in the UK, which takes vaguely Chinese sounds and adds them to grime’s ebullient form of millennial post-hip-hop, casting a gaze beyond the old superpowers that are the U.S. and Europe and toward the emerging economic giant that is China.
If there’s a better example of a musical collective absorbing all the influences the world has to offer and giving it back to us in a coherent form than the dance super-group Future Brown then I’ve yet to hear it. Featuring J-Cush, label boss of NYC’s Lit City Trax, Los Angeles duo Nguzunguzu and the Senegal-born, Kuwait-raised and US-residing Fatima Al Qadiri, the collective is yet to drop their debut LP but they’ve worked with plenty of artists so far from the rising stars of Kelela and Tink to a variety of dancehall and grime MCs: genre-hopping, open-minded and very much looking to the future. Out of all the members though, Fatima Al Qadiri is the one making the most interesting, immersive music.