Piers Barber checks out Fatima Al Qadiri’s characteristic take on protest music and discovers a record often stunning in its relevance and condemnation of authoritarian state violence.
Fatima Al Qadiri – Brute
Power, authority and violence form the highly relevant focal points of Fatima Al Qadiri’s compelling second full-length, released on Hyperdub this month. These are weighty themes, yet a quick glance at Al Qadiri’s bio proves she’s more qualified to confront them than most. Having grown up in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion, during which her parents were both involved in the resistance, she now resides in the US, where grim repeated cases of state violence recently dominated the headlines in the wake of rioting in cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore.
Following on from Asiatisch, another concept album critiquing orientalism and the homogenisation of Asian culture, Al Qadiri here employs her compelling sonic style to interpret themes of protest, paranoia and America’s ever escalating military law enforcement. It’s a perfect fit for Hyperdub, the label headed up by Steve Goodman (best known as Kode9), who back in 2009 wrote a book on how sound is used to create fear in both military and domestic contexts.
Conveniently, these are themes ideally suited to Al Qadiri’s signature styles – apocalyptic choral vocals, grime-influenced drums and gun reloads, sirens, foggy synths and steel pan rhythms. This all comes together on ‘Brute’ and ‘Power,’ the record’s climactic and best tracks and moments which recall the absorbing paranoid atmospheres of Al Qadiri’s best release to date, 2012’s Desert Strike (Indeed, some of that EP’s tracks may be even better suited to the intended moods of this album than some of its actual final cuts).
Al Qadiri tackles her timely subject matter without the use of conventional vocals, but her sparse samples are smart and provocative. The record opens with a recording from the recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri, in which a creepy electronic pulse accompanies distressing clips of police dispersing a crowd using the controversial (and thoroughly nasty) Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). Elsewhere they articulate dry humour, such as MSNBC presenter Lawrence O’Donnell’s wry introduction to the violence which occurred at the Occupy Wall Street protests:
“This weekend a few troublemakers turned a peaceful protest against Wall Street greed into a violent burst of chaos. The troublemakers carried pepper spray and guns, and were wearing badges.”
Rage is not the only mood on show here, with attempts to maintain purposeful anger often collapsing in place of atmospheres of isolation and claustrophobia. It means that despite the forcefulness of its concept, Brute often feels less like music of protest than an articulation of exhaustion and helpless confusion. The album’s momentum suffers – this record is at least a song or two too long. Still, though, this diffuse anger ably encapsulates some of the helplessness familiar to anyone accustomed to following these grim events through social media or rolling news.
Like all the best examples of ‘protest’ music, Brute’s effectiveness is rooted in its raw emotion rather than the messages made explicit through lyrics. In this sense, the absence of vocals is hardly unsuitable. These are, after all, issues which often defy belief. As Al Qadiri says herself, “you’re speechless anyway.”