From the haunting synth textures of 2012’s Desert Strike, to the spacious and melancholic atmospheres of 2021’s Medieval Femme, Fatima Al Qadiri is adept at building worlds with her exploratory and conceptual music. Al Qadiri talks to us about how she works, and her move into film scoring over the last few years.
You released your first EP Warn-U under the name Ayshay in 2011. Since then, you’ve released a number of exciting solo records and collaborations, as well as working on visual arts projects and writing. How would you describe your current practice to someone who might not be familiar with your work?
I’m not very good at describing my practice but I would say that I’m no longer working on visual art projects and solely focusing on music, personal and scoring, for a few years now.
You recently composed the music for the film La Abuela, which was released in January. What can you tell us about the film, and how did you come to work on it?
Paco Plaza got in touch with a very interesting statement about the terror of aging. I thought this was a prescient subject especially when the main actors were fashion models in real life. Also, Vera Valdez is a legend and I really wanted to work on La Abuela because of her.
The last film you scored was 2019’s Atlantics, which has been described as a ‘ghost love story’. The film uses elements of folk tales and the supernatural to tell a story about inequality, love, power and class. It’s a beautiful and unsettling film and to have you as composer seems a perfect match. How did that collaboration come about?
Mati Diop contacted me as a fan on my Facebook page. We then arranged to meet in person and I sensed her perfectionism which put me at ease. When a director is in love with your music, it makes the whole process much deeper and more fulfilling as an artist.
There’s a spacious, understated quality to the Atlantics score, which is also reflected in your most recent solo album, 2021’s Medieval Femme. Has writing for film affected how you approach your other projects? How is the process of making your own albums different from working on film scores?
My own albums are self-directed, there’s no guidance from another person. For a film, ultimately it’s an artistic negotiation between composer and director. But undoubtedly, the scoring of Atlantics highly influenced Medieval Femme. Mati Diop guided me to a more minimal and dreamy side of my music that I hadn’t fully explored before.
As a multi-talented artist you’ve worked in a number of mediums over the years. What is it about making music, and specifically composing for film at the moment, that is so attractive to you?
I always wanted to score films, ever since I was a kid. So effectively it’s a childhood dream but it took a long time for a director like Mati to reach out to me and collaborate.
Your solo records all have a strong conceptual basis. The exploration of Western democracy and police brutality on 2016’s Brute, or the concept of an “imagined China” and Chinese stereotypes on 2014’s Asiatisch, for example. When you’re making music do you set out to explore a specific concept or is it more a process of just creating and gradually developing and uncovering a concept as the work progresses?
The concept comes before the music, is normally how I work. I usually have a title and that title informs the world of the record.
Medieval Femme draws on themes of melancholy, longing and solitude. It evokes feelings of a kind of otherworldly place, like being lost in a dream. It feels appropriate that you finished making it during lockdown last year. How did the pandemic affect your practice and the album? Is the idea of place important to your work, both in terms of the place where it is created and the sense of space it creates?
I started making Medieval Femme in December 2019, so half the album was written pre-pandemic. But I have to say the lockdown really did help me finish it because the stress I felt was channeled into the music, writing it was a a daily ritual to detach from reality. But, generally speaking, I prefer to write music in Kuwait. That setting is the best place for me to create.
Much of your music could be described on some level as club music. What are your thoughts on club spaces, is the club an important space to you?
I personally think the minority of my music can be described as club music. I haven’t been to a club since February 2020 so that space feels quite distant at the moment. But it’s definitely an important space, but maybe more so when I was younger.
You’ve spoken a lot about your relationship with video games, how they were important to you as a child and how they influenced the music you went on to create. Have you ever thought about scoring a video game yourself?
I would love to score a game if only a game developer would hire me.
Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment? Will you continue to make film scores as well as your own solo albums?
I will continue to write albums and score films, but I don’t talk about what I’m currently working on until it’s released, it’s bad luck.