Three Great Things: Fatima Al Qadiri

The Kuwaiti artist just did the music for Atlantics, out now on Netflix.

Three Great Things is our series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. In this installment, Fatima Al Qadiri talks her love for the Alps, video games, and “spirit” stories.
— Josh Modell, Talkhouse Executive Editor

1. The Alps

I was about four years old when I first remember being in the Alps. It was on a summer vacation to an area called Villars in Switzerland. Coming from Kuwait, where the air could best be described as ranging from blow-dryer heat to humidity from hell, it was the polar opposite environment (without going full arctic circle). Kuwait was arid and flat, with the finest dust man has ever encountered. Full of geckos, a fairly large mangy cat population, jellyfish and oil spills. The air smelled of salty sewage, fresh asphalt, and in the close company of proudly perfumed locals, a buffet of Oud. The air in the Alps was scented with pine, heavenly grass, aged glacier droplets. The height of the mountains as we drove up a windy road to reach the chalet, amidst the cover of trees revealed a duvet of greens for a dehydrated baby. Everything tasted crazy, the lettuce, water, milk. We only had powdered milk in Kuwait at the time so drinking milk from a real cow was a genuine culture shock. I felt the presence of dragons, ogres and mythical creatures with icicles for eyelashes. I remember hearing a yodel one morning and the blast of a primordial horn on another. It was so overwhelming it verged on psychedelic. I felt like the dogs that stick their tongues out of moving car windows and are basically tripping from joy! One of my life goals is to have expiry-date access to a chalet in the Alps.

2. Video Games

I’m an authentic middle-class child of the ’80s, I grew up with consoles. I yearned for agency and power in a male-dominated world. My body and brain were mutating in seemingly horrific ways. I wanted to be in control of both so badly, but could only control a pixelated persona on the TV. I wanted to kill bosses and jump from cloud to cloud. I got addicted to the gameplay and music at the same time. The little analog ditties and small swords, the falling hearts of life replenishment. It was my first full-blown addiction and a life saver, literally, during the occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Until the electricity got cut off, then my sister and I had to resort to a scavenger toy collection. The consoles got bigger and more advanced with the passing years. 8-bit became 16-bit, 2D became 3D and so on. I stopped playing games at 16 and gravitated towards more adult pastimes. I started again in my early twenties when video game emulation became popular online. I could relive my youth with games like Penguin’s Adventure on the MSX with an emulator. Without emulation many games and consoles would’ve strictly existed inside some archival institution, never to be played en masse again. After decades our older consoles at home were pretty unworkable, and their cartridges fared the same fate. Emulation provided a time traveler’s connection to a period of youth that was seemingly lost forever. But the act itself, playing a game, is like entering a time-loss vortex. The hours pass until life rudely interrupts gaming.

3. Spirit Stories

I didn’t want to use the term “ghost stories” because ghost contains some Western perspective baggage and feels limited in scope. Whereas a spiritual entity can be indifferent, evil, and even benign. Kuwait is a pretty haunted place, the expanse and flatness of the desert and lack of places to hide brings everything out into the open. We’re taught in kindergarten about the presence of Jinn, as they are mentioned in verses of the Quran. That Jinn are “spiritual beings invisible to the naked human eye.” It is also stated that “humans are created from the earth and jinn from smokeless fire.” The discovery quickly terrified and piqued a life-long curiosity, a yearning for stories of jinn and spirits from all corners of the world. It’s a great challenge to make a spirit story seem real in film, the representation almost always falls short. But telling a tale with words alone? The imagination is able to run wild, amplifying details the individual listener fears most. The form and motion of the spirit are my favorite details. The time of day is a great creep factor. High Noon in Kuwaiti folklore has always been the Jinn hour. Maybe because sunstroke makes you hallucinate? When the light is too bright… Location is another key detail. Did a great amount of suffering rise in this place? A large abandoned area, village or town is automatically subject to haunting. The scariest stories are the ones in combination with sorcery aka black magic, another “great thing!”

Fatima Al Qadiri is a New York-based artist, musician and composer.

(Photo Credit: Dom Smith)