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Fatima Al Qadiri’s latest EP ‘Desert Strike’ is a loaded body of work. Directly inspired by her childhood experiences of living in Kuwait during the Gulf War and the complicated, unwilling role of the witness-as-spectator that she (like millions of others) took on, Al Qadiri has worked to translate her childhood experiences of war through a palette of sounds drawn from a video game that shaped her youth.
Al Qadiri’s representation of traumatic experience is a telling and appropriate reflection of a war which was shaped by its shapelessness; a war which did not take place. The emphasis on remote intelligence-gathering and the relatively minor loss of life on the American side meant that for many in the West – critics and the public alike – the Gulf War appeared to exist largely as a purely visual event devoid of a physical, human reality. It became a post-modern atrocity like no other before it.
Dominated by RADAR imaging, the advent of rapidly advancing surveillance technologies in the Gulf War meant that what was once a localised event could now instantly become a global spectacle for the universal eyewitness. This allowed for a disturbing reality in that those on the ground could (at least temporally) experience an event in the same moment as a benumbed ‘audience’ thousands of miles away, glued to 24-hour televised updates. Captured in real time and diffused across the globe, the visual presentation of the Gulf War also complicated the role of the witness.
How could an individual in a war that “did not take place” figure their experiences in ways that do justice to their place in the event? For a generation that had not lived through a world war and was yet to watch planes fly into the World Trade Centre, the form of the global catastrophic event was ever-shifting. Fact and fiction were spliced into news bulletins and new, harrowing mechanisms of visual imaging emphasised war as spectacle in such a way that the act of personal testimony became all the more complicated – yet all the more desperate and necessary.
This infusion of immediate reality and the post-traumatic visual representations of it is what captured Al Qadiri for the ‘Desert Strike’ EP years after her time in Kuwait. One year after the invasion, Al Qadiri began playing ‘Desert Strike: Return To The Gulf’, the Sega video game that bizarrely informed and shaped her experience of the violence happening around her. It’s a poignant and surreal image; a child living in the very real aftermath of a war, playing a video game that portrayed her immediate reality as a thing of the past – an event chronicled, re-visualised and commodified into a play-thing – whilst the rest of the world viewed its contents as a global event removed from a physical, human reality.
Whilst it’s hard to separate the tracks from one another in a sense that doing so breaks up the narrative of the EP, the title track Desert Strike puts across the haunting residues of the video game through its merging of overtly synthesised vocal cuts and their manipulation into quick fire, pretty catchy piano lines. Stylistically she seems to exist in a grime-inflected, Sega-influenced phantasmagoria. Big, choral-leaning melodies swell into life only to immediately drift off into eerie residues, and as rapid-fire bursts of kick-drum punch their way through the opening bars, so too does an impossibly catchy melody quickly shaken off course by hollow, Ruff Sqwad-esque gun-fire percussion. The influence of the ‘Desert Strike: Return To The Gulf’ soundtrack and the Sega sound effects style is massive, yet it doesn’t override Al Qadiri either. Her testimony is a re-interpretation of a re-interpretation, a reflective take on a distorted, commodified representation of her own, private experience of war that reclaims her place as witness.