Fatima Al Qadiri is a consummate New Yorker: her parents studied in Russia, she was born in Senegal, grew up in Kuwait, then lived in eight cities over the past dozen years before settling down in Brooklyn, where she’s about to phone the 311 noise complaint line—construction next door is interrupting her music making. But it was war that sparked Al Qadiri. “I started making music when I was nine,” she says as the backhoes clatter. “I had a little Casio keyboard. It was right after the liberation of Kuwait. I had experienced so much trauma and didn’t know how to express it. I made this really sad, minor key melody on the keyboard and I played it to myself every day.” Summers in the UK offered escape from Kuwait’s ultra-conservative music scene. As a teenager, Al Qadiri first fell in love with the synth euphoria of eurodance, then found London’s buzzing club subcultures. She left behind her homemade tapes of Casio classical when a friend gifted her the audio production software Logic. “It was a revelation,” she says. “I injured my back basically because the chair I was sitting on was so shit and I spent 19 hours a day staring at the computer.”
This September Tri Angle Records released her Warn-U EP, otherworldly soul fashioned entirely from her own voice, which gets pitched up and down then layered into a chorus of chipmunk muezzins and guttural robots with the help of that trusty computer. She named the project Ayshay, Arabic for “whatever,” to lighten the religious baggage of making music directly inspired by Sunni and Shiite Muslim acapella worship songs. “The Shiite acapella is all about commemorating the martyrdom of the Prophet’s relatives, so they sing with this very intensely pained voice,” she says. “The Sunni ones are more uplifting. They sound more like Boyz II Men.” Readers of Al Qadiri’s mind-expanding Global .Wav blog for DIS magazine know this signature span of references—her world is large and weird and fucks with the underlying codes of pop, be it Muslim trance hits or boy band American R&B.
Genre-Specific Xperience, an upcoming EP under her own name, is elegantly scattered. Each song dissects a different style, from 1990s Gregorian chant (think Enigma) to juke, with artists such as Ryan Trecartin crafting videos for each track. Al Qadiri is fascinated by spaces where we worship: body-god gyms and spas, money-loving corporate offices, the Vatican, and all of these will appear in GSX’s videos. Out this October on Uno, GSX will appropriately kick off with a screening party at NYC’s New Museum.
But don’t expect an Ayshay/Fatima Al Qadiri concert anytime soon. She sees herself as a composer, more concerned with songwriting and studio-craft than belting it out onstage. Besides, she needs to carve out time for her visual art, mostly photography, mostly done when she’s visiting Kuwait. Back when she was a kid growing up in the Gulf, Al Qadiri made soundtracks for her sister’s cartoon drawings. Today, the tools have changed, but she’s still driven by the same basic impulses. Now she’s just inspired by a much bigger picture.
Department of Corrections: In FADER #76, Fatima Al Qadiri’s website was incorrectly listed. You can visit it at fatmiaalqadiri.com.
Stream: Fatima Al Qadiri, Genre-Specific Xperience