Fatima Al Qadiri has just released her second full-length album, Brute. A concept album, it is, according to Al Qadiri, a protest album in the lineage of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” And yet, unlike the music of Marvin Gaye, Al Qadiri’s work is constructed entirely of sound (with the addition of outside samplings), devoid of vocals. Al Qadiri, who was born in Senegal, grew up in Kuwait, where she experienced the Occupation of Kuwait by Iraq first hand. In an interview with Sukhdev Sandhu in The Guardian in 2014 Al Qadiri explained:

My father was once half an hour late for a meeting and when he arrived everybody at the safe house had been murdered. Our family was moving from house to house almost every week, but still my father was eventually a prisoner of war. He was taken from our house to a concentration camp in Basra for a month.

Al Qadiri began playing video games as a child as a means to cope with war. “We could escape. And the music was so hypnotic! Little 8-bit melodies that lulled you into a waking sleep while playing the games,” she explained in The Guardian. Yet it is the horror and terror of her experience growing up in occupied Kuwait that brought about the creation of her spectacular music. It is the landscape of Occupied Kuwait that forms her music’s otherworldly iciness. Again, in The Guardian, Al Qadiri explained:

Kuwait was burned to the ground. It was an ashtray nation. In that alien landscape, I’d wake up and see the illuminated darkness that was the daytime burning of oil wells. The black sky was lit by the sun. I felt like I was living in a sci- fi movie, as if I was in Blade Runner. You’d hear machinegun fire, air-raid sirens.

The experience of watching her home and homeland becomes something other, something unrecognizable and frightening, of feeling “as if I was in Blade Runner,” is precisely what informs the aesthetics of Al Qadiri’s music. Yet Brute is an album not for Kuwait but for the United States. It is a warning. In an interview with Michelle Lhooq for Thump/Vice earlier this year, Al Qadiri said:

I know what it looks like. I’ve seen police brutality first-hand, and I’ve been harassed by the police. It’s also a universal subject. The subject I’m trying to address is that protest in the West is diminishing as a right. Freedom of assembly is the last recourse in a [corrupted] democracy where you can’t do anything anymore, and voting doesn’t help.

Fatima Al Qadiri (courtesy Hyperdub) (click to enlarge)

Brute is a type of poetry. It is not easy to straddle the line between narrative, which can be pedantic on one hand or comforting on the other, and abstraction, removed from the difficulties of the real world.

Al Qadiri’s experiencing of the Occupation of Kuwait, her experience of existing outside a single culture––by moving around as a child and moving from place to place during the Occupation––provides her with a more complicated set of lenses through which to see reality. Her work is political because it samples moments of the real world, including recordings from the television, from the police, from the streets in which we live—whether we like it or not, whether we ignore it or not, What makes Al Qadiri’s work so exquisite, and so terribly important, is that it is beautiful and, at the same time, it speaks directly of war and powerlessness, of inequality and voicelessness.

Like great poetry, her music provides just the right amount of world and politics with her references to protests, news clips and police force while allowing the listener enough space within each song and within the album to make her own connections.

Brute (2016) is available from Amazon and other online retailers.

Cynthia Cruz’s poems have been published in the New Yorker, Paris Review, Boston Review, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, and others. Her first collection of poems, RUIN, was published by Alice...