Compilations / Mixes
Fatima Al Qadiri:
Asiatisch's opening song “Shanzhai” would seem to be an optimal candidate for a blindfold test, given that the unwitting listener might not recognize Fatima Al Qadiri's haunting song as a cover of Prince's “Nothing Compares to You” (the ballad made famous by Sinéad O'Connor, of course, five years after appearing on the self-titled album The Family issued on Prince's Paisley Park Records in 1985), especially when presented with nonsensical Mandarin lyrics in place of the original and with a suitably impassioned lead vocal offset by an ethereal background choir. If none of the nine songs that follow are at the same eyebrow-raising level as that brilliant opener, the Kuwait-based musician's thirty-eight-minute debut album still makes for a worthwhile listen.
On conceptual grounds, Asiatisch (the German word for Asian, incidentally) presents a simulated road trip through an imagined China, but it's more striking for the musical style to which it pays homage, namely sinogrime, a grime sub-genre that emphasizes Asian motifs and melodies. Once the almost entirely vocals-only “Shanzhai” is out of the way, Asiatisch shifts its focus to a musical hybrid that merges a synthetic treatment of traditional Chinese music with ominous rhythms vaguely redolent of grime and funk. Synthesizers are prominently featured, but so too are choral exhalations, flutes, and traditional percussion instruments (mallets, bells, gongs, steel drums). Representative of the style is “Hainan Island,” wherein a hypnotic, labyrinthine weave is generated by dark synth flourishes, flute and choral accents, and metronomic mallet patterns. Elsewhere, a diseased New Age-styled vibe is conjured during “Shenzhen” in its narcotized blend of wooden flutes, bell strikes, and skeletal groove; “Dragon Tattoo” underpins its English-speaking vocal (a rarity on the album) with a robotic funk groove; and “Shanghai Freeway” derives a strong forward momentum from an arrangement rooted in staccato steel drum and harpsichord-like patterns.
The sonic universe fashioned by Al Qadiri throughout Asiatisch is one that deftly straddles eras and hemispheres, and to her credit the parts, as disparate as they sometimes are, never come together awkwardly. It's an unusual but nevertheless captivating and consistently stimulating album that reflects well not only on Fatima Al Qadiri as an original artist but also on Hyperdub (and by association label-runner Steve Goodman) for being so adventurous, curatorially speaking.