Imagine returning to your homeland and realizing that it no longer seems like home. The agrarian areas remain, but poverty is high. The military occupies the city, and tourism has transformed the municipality into a caricature. The infrastructure is crumbling, the air and water have grown polluted, and the locals are suffering atrocities. The only way to make a living is to participate in the system: to serve those who pass through, turning their own blind eye.
This is the situation faced by Ruhail Quisar, who transforms his impressions into an injured, broken howl that culminates in a literal scream. Ladakh and Leh no longer match his memory. Fatima, described as “a requiem to a dead future,” sounds dark, decayed and hurt. Communicating through frayed electronics and spoken word, Quisar produces something dank and industrial, foreign to Himalayan musical traditions, yet fitting: a factory filled with disillusioned narrators. “Fatima’s Poplar” dissolves into a drone; “Sachu Melung” begins with a bark. Amplifying the pathos is the lack of recognition given to Ladakh musicians; and yet, Quisar cares, loves, journals, preserves history in sonic form. The “transmission problem” mentioned in the first track becomes a series of cold blasts in the second, drowning a heartbeat in loud static abrasion. One thinks of culture assaulted, dreams stomped. On the cover, the artist is nearly submerged.
The accompanying booklet looks to the past while acknowledging the now. There are still pockets of beauty, glimpses of pride. The snow-capped mountains announce their purity over a foreground of fallen walls. A humble home is decorated by a single lamp, a lone poster. Children pose at the foot of a stream. Even in “Abandoned Homes of Langsti,” the birds tweet. There is squirming in “Seventh Dream” amid bouts of laughter. But after deterioration, how much goodness remains?
Broken wax, mattresses, and candles / Sinking in burnt books and October soot / I keep my pace like an animal. The whispered “Namgang” is the album’s most immediate track, guitars lurking before surging, a violent attack. Even then, the cowbells are not silenced: the insistent past, yearning to be heard. Again a heartbeat, now uneven, in “Painter Man;” nothing here is stable. By the time Elvin Brandhi begins to scream on “Daily Hunger,” the listener understands why. Despite its shocking nature, this harrowing moment seems earned.
Fatima exudes raw honesty: a report from the front lines, where everything is falling apart. The tourists still visit, perhaps unaware that they are ruining the very thing they came to see. While Quisar is not saying “stay away,” he is at least saying “look, listen, learn.” The pain is real and at times brutal. Should we change the station, or lean in? (Richard Allen)