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Fatima Al Qadiri - Medieval Femme Music Album Reviews

Fatima Al Qadiri - Medieval Femme Music Album Reviews
Following the camp-infused club music of 2017’s Shaneera, Al Qadiri once again examines questions of gender and representation in the Arab world, this time invoking women poets of the Middle Ages.

Like certain Celtic druids or Rome’s emperor Constantine, the 7th-century Arabic poet known as Al-Khansa leapt into an unfamiliar cosmos, converting to the nascent faith of Islam during middle age (Muhammad himself was said to be a fan). She composed elegies in an era of social upheaval and imperial collapse, including this defiant lament for her own brother:

Thus I shall weep for you as long as ringdoves wail,
as long as night stars shine for travelers.
I’ll not make peace with people that you fought
until black pitch turns white.

The new Fatima Al Qadiri album Medieval Femme takes inspiration from female Arabic poets of the Middle Ages, and it quotes directly from Al-Khansa’s verse on “Tasakuba.” A soft-synth lute melody wanders until it becomes only faintly audible, the sound of footsteps through a cavern. As Al-Khansa once passed down these half-remembered pagan rituals to Baghdad’s grand libraries, Al Qadiri gives the poet’s threnodies a modern context.

On Al Qadiri’s previous release, Shaneera, she returned to Kuwait, where she grew up, to record purposefully outrageous club music. She lifted her lyrics from drag routines and Grindr chats, and posed as an evil queen on the cover. This record turns inwards, its archetypal women more yearning than commanding. Al Qadiri looked to the past for instrumentation as well, evoking antique ouds; little percussion can be heard, and digital effects only bring subtle estrangement. “Sheba” interrupts a reverberating organ with kick drums, as if waking from a hypnotic trance, while “Golden” draws out the title into a distorted mantra. I thought of the bardcore “Hips Don’t Lie” cover that a streamer friend often plays, where Shakira’s single becomes the soundtrack for a rival seductively lifting your chin with their sword-tip. Al Qadiri dislocates the standard images of courtly longing: Imagine a scented garden on the moon, or thwarted lovers crying out to each other around some impossibly curlicued balcony.

Left alone long enough, dance music can drift into languor, as when Donna Summer sighed, “Love to love you, baby,” for 17 straight minutes. The critic Richard Dyer once argued that disco’s sinuous rhythms “restore eroticism to the whole of the body.” Medieval Femme, barely half an hour long, uses repetition to suggest open space rather than abundance. Its songs feel like movements of a single composition. “Vanity” winds Al Qadiri’s regal vocal along melodies strung with lambent synth tones; “Qasmuna (Dreaming)” returns to that same infatuated phrase as the singing grows more and more otherworldly. So many medieval love poems dramatize private desire through the ceremony of speaking it. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish called back to that contradiction with one of his early verses: “Rita’s name was a feast in my mouth/Rita’s body was a wedding in my blood.” The austere style of Al Qadiri’s music makes its beseeching words sound all the more bereft.

“Zandaq,” the final track on Medieval Femme, is the only one that uses a traditional Arabic scale and simultaneously the most radical, an airy ecology of plucked strings and flutes like mourning birds. Microtones echo as they might in nature, carrying the gentlest sense of desolation. Al Qadiri brings together past and future in an uncanny rhyme, nodding toward loss without wallowing in torpor. Walter Benjamin, who appreciated with ambivalence the political force of sadness, once wrote: “Melancholy betrays the world for the sake of knowledge. But in its tenacious self-absorption it embraces dead objects in its contemplation, in order to rescue them.” There are no such hollow forms among Al Qadiri’s music. Like the poet who vowed to weep until constellations burn out, she remains unreconciled.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Fatima Al Qadiri - Medieval Femme Music Album Reviews Fatima Al Qadiri - Medieval Femme Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, May 27, 2021 Rating: 5

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