Weekly updates:


Interview: Fatima Al Qadiri on becoming a villain through music

Sydney artist Rainbow Chan quizzes the Kuwaiti producer about creating innovative music through isolation and adversity

Posted by

Fatima Al Qadiri will be making her way to Australia next week, headlining a couple of solo shows, as well as taking part in BBE’s Winter Weekender during Sydney’s Vivid Festival celebrations. Contrary to the restrictive environment she grew up in, Fatima harnessed her creative talents to become a leading producer in the international electronic music scene. The Kuwaiti-raised, New York-based multi-disciplinarian dabbles in music and visuals in some pretty interesting ways to create some of the most innovative (and probably trippy) sensory experiences you’ve seen and heard in a while.

Ahead of Fatima’s Australian visit, Sydney artist Rainbow Chan, who also produces a lot of culturally significant and sonically intriguing work, caught some time with one of her obvious influences. The ladies got into some pretty in-depth discussions about cultural differences and the very specific influences that have shaped Fatima into the producer (and person) she is today.

Rainbow Chan’s debut LP will be released via Silo Arts & Records later this year and you can check out her latest single ‘Last’ right now.

You can catch Fatima playing at Howler Melbourne on Friday June 10, and BBE’s Winter Weekender Sydney on Saturday June 11.

Rainbow Chan: It’s great to meet you, I’ve been listening and interpreting your work for some time. I wanted to ask, how much of an impact did your experiences with violence and war affect your music?

Fatima Al Qadiri: It’s definitely a complex situation but my addiction with video games started around the same time and I think that it created this feeling of, I wanted to become the villain, because I thought they had the power. Both my sister and I became obsessed with the ‘bad guys’ in cartoons and video games and we thought that their music was better [laughs].

RC: Like the bad guys’ music had more creativity or tension?

FAQ: No, I think it was because it was always in the minor keys and I think that was the start of my love for music in that key, I don’t really compose music in major keys. Because of the invasion, we couldn’t move freely and basically were in lock down in my house. It probably wasn’t a very safe place at the time for young girls to be roaming the streets, so I was basically house bound from [age] nine until 16. I had left the house maybe three times unsupervised in that time—not even once a year—and this is when I started making music.

I think this extreme isolation and necessity lead to an imaginative space and I think writing music started then. Violence coupled with isolation and authority and the rapid consumption of video games was a form of needing agency and a whole buffet of things that affected how I developed as a young adult.

RC: I read that your grandfather was a singer on a pearl diving boat and that it’s actually considered such a lowly occupation.

FAQ: It’s still considered a lowly occupation today, anyone that’s considered to be a performer. It’s strange where Arabs have this love/hate relationship with music. They lose themselves in it, go crazy for it —there’s this word ‘tarab’ that means the mutual ecstasy of the performer and the audience—so there’s this whole relationship of participation, whilst the musician has zero prestige. Especially for women… the vast majority of women musicians function under singular names like ‘Cher’ ‘Madonna’. They have to get married almost immediately to preserve their honour.

RC: It’s like a mixture of shame and fixation almost. Kind of fetishising music, whilst considering it taboo.

FAQ: I think for women it’s considered a step above a prostitute; it’s really not great. I definitely think it’s very sad, it’s changing but slowly. I think with this obsession everyone has with fame is amping it up and giving it a little more respect. Everyone’s so obsessed with social media but it still doesn’t change how you function as a musician in society. For instance, members of the elite will never allow their children to become musicians normally, because it’s – not embarrassing – but it’s not done. There’s a very famous composer from the ’70s from a well-known family that disowned him, and he’s a man, so there’s this historical precedence with their relationships with musicians – not so much music as it’s this abstract thing – but externally with artists.

I think it’s a very interesting situation, my grandfather died before I was born so I never got to ask him any questions about music, but I don’t think he would have approved. No way in hell, he would not have approved of me. There are many men in my family, even that accuse me of besmirching the reputation of our family but thank god my parents don’t give a fuck. I’m extremely fortunate to have parents that will protect me from other members of my family. That’s the thing, I think there would be a hundred times more female musicians in the Arab world, that would be producers and so on.

RC: I think there is a lot of stigma around it, for sure. For example, when you released ‘Brute’ you said you’d made a record about protesting but it’s not ‘protest music’ per se. You shy away from being too didactic because you don’t really work with lyrics. Is that something you try to do intentionally your music?

F:  I think I have said before, that it’s not ‘protest’ music because I think it’s a very specific genre. This has always been my problem with genres is that they’ve turned into marketing tools. I’ve never been a person that allows themselves to be in any kind of box and I think that genres can be used as tools to define BPM or something but I think they’re suffocating of music and other art. And I think they’re inaccurate when they come to describing my work. Maybe other people like defining it, but I don’t. 

I made a record about protest, about the function of protests in society and how important it is to question the relationship between the states and in terms of democracy, and that was the whole crux of it. In many ways this is the most specific record I’ve made. But you know, I’m not a philosopher [laughs] so why should I provide anyone with the answers? I’m just a musician, I don’t have any solutions. All I’m doing is questioning the status quo, with every record I’ve made, to a certain extend. I think that ‘Desert Strike’, ‘Asiatisch’, and ‘Brute’ are about that, and really there aren’t any clear-cut solutions to anything. There just aren’t, it’s the discussion that might lead to something. I don’t think I’m a guru that has any idea of what they might be [laughs].

RC: And fair enough! When I first heard ‘Asiatisch’ I found it quite confronting. I’m of Chinese descent, but then I began to unpack it and I fell in love with it so much I wrote an essay and podcast on it. I guess this goes back to your recurrent themes of challenging the status quo, and opening a dialogue about the problems there, but I’m interested to hear how you think a Chinese person would have reacted to the album.

FAQ: I wouldn’t be able to, I think it would be very conceited to try and put myself in his or her shoes for the perception of my record. And this is going back to my obsession of villainy, and I felt that ongoing caricatures the west has created [show] China to be the villain through newspapers and cartoons and the like. Whether an economic or cultural [villain], from those Disney Siamese cats until now, I’ve always been presented with this idea of China as a bad guy. I think one of the things I wanted to link with the Sino-grime itself is that rappers and producers in the UK saw that image of the villain wanted to co-opt its power because society saw the black man as super-predators in the ’80s and ’90s. It was their way of owning that power by using it in music and that’s what I wanted to relate between these disparate elements – this creation of a villainous persona through music.

See more details about BBE’s Winter Weekender here.

Weekly updates