It’s important not to mistake the dreamy sweetness of Fatima Al Qadiri’s Medieval Femme for anything close to weakness. Inspired by classical poems of Arab women, Al Qadiri spends her ten tracks swimming back and forth between delicate and ferocious with airy overlays swirled with bold, buzzing drones. Spacious and straightforward, Medieval Femme is a richly crafted suite, lush enough to feel decadent and restrained sufficiently to demonstrate producer Al Qadiri’s refined hand.
String sounds unfold at the album’s start into its title track, an invocation: “Medieval femme / I beseech you,” sings Al Qadiri, her voice heavy with devotion as the song builds beneath her. With the world of these women now open, she moves between shadowy moods toward the end of the album. “A Certain Concubine” is Medieval Femme’s first instrumental, an artful quasi-chamber piece that uses the sounds of period instruments to build a stiffly elegant scene that moves like a music box. “Sheba” brings stark contrast, lithe synthesized strings dissolving into a charged atmosphere cut by finger snaps and a punchy low end.
The songs resume with “Vanity”, where Al Qadiri returns, voice captivatingly deep: “Vanity, hollowing / A mutant fame / Celestial sparkle.” She pitches herself up, then down, and ultimately lets the track dissolve into the album’s darkest ambience so far. The sinuous “Stolen Kiss of a Succubus” blossoms into sensual fantasy with the tension of long-held notes cooled by breathy aerophones. A protracted ending leads to the harsh initial drop of “Golden”, a more freeform piece with dramatic highs and turns of melancholy made blissfully strange by Al Qadiri’s distorted voice.
Four more tracks lead the listener into their deepest dreams. “Qasmuna (Dreaming)” moves its audience with slow centripetal force toward a zero-gravity center. “Malaak” has an arresting gravitas, honey-thick synths ebbing and flowing beneath urgent strings and smoky vocals. The soft “Tasakuba” drifts and echoes with starlit grace and meandering contours. The album ends with “Zandaq”, a final floating moment of total serenity that completes the arc from Al Qadiri’s initial call for inspiration to wordless enlightenment.
Throughout her career thus far, Fatima Al Qadiri has proven to be an artist of many muses. On 2014’s Asiatisch, she interrogated orientalist representations of China through grime-based subversions. 2016’s Brute was a visceral expression of unrest in the face of the American police state. One of her many EPs, 2017’s Shaneera saw Al Qadiri place house beats alongside Khaleeji music with messages countering binary gender norms. Some film soundtracks have seen Al Qadiri put her flair for the cinematic to work in scoring stories.
On Medieval Femme, Al Qadiri hits a new stride with new stories, interpreting poetic archives with exquisite understatement and opening up yet another new creative avenue for herself. From the meditative strength of her source material, she extrapolates, her creations dynamic and crackling with thrilling, emotional undercurrents. This is an album with loping curves and jagged edges, luscious melodrama balancing ultra-cool and contemporary beats, and Al Qadiri is the perfect artist to work old into new.