Aïsha Devi Conscious Cunt [EP]

[Houndstooth; 2015]

Styles: vox, hi-fi shamanism, trance, electronic
Others: Vaghe Stelle, Lorenzo Senni, IVVVO, El Mahdy Jr., Kishwar Naheed

Ye hum gunahgaar auratein hein
Jo ahl-e jabba ki tamkinat se
Na rob khaayein
Na jaan bechein
Na sar jhukaayein
Na haath jodein
Ye hum gunahgaar auratein hein
Ke jin ke jismon ki fasl bechein jo log
Voh sarfaraaz thahrein
Nayaabat-e imtiyaaz thahrein
Voh daavar-e ahl-e saaz thahrein
Ye hum gunahgaar auratein hein
Ke sach ka parcham utha ke niklein
To jhoot se shaah-raahein ati mile hein
Har ek dahleez pe sazaaon ki daastaanein rakhi mile hein
Jo bol sakti theen voh zubaanein kati mile hein

“Aurat,” the second track on Aïsha Devi’s Conscious Cunt, is a rendition of the above text from Urdu poet Kishwar Naheed. Naheed’s poems are based on the struggle of the feminine, enabling an appreciation of defiance against a deluge of chauvinistic ideas of a “submissive good woman” and presenting a denial of the coercive pressures exerted by a deep-rooted social bias. An English translation of Naheed’s poem, entitled We Sinful Women, reads:

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

On Conscious Cunt, Devi’s music offers an affinity for Naheed in reclaiming the narrative of women. According to Devi, the EP “embodies different perspectives on womanhood and the dichotomy between materialistic femininity under societal pressure and spirituality.” At the very least, Conscious Cunt enables us to question this dichotomy, as well as the nature of spirituality itself — in particular, how might we fathom spirituality within the context of music?

For a start, the voice itself — around which the track “Aurat” is constructed — offers some insight into this dichotomy through its own recommendation of spirituality. It is often suggested, for example, that we can discover ourselves from within by way of our “inner voice” — our inner guide or conscience. Inversely, we tend to acquire an impression through life that, in order to succeed, we need to neglect this intuitive conscience; in essence, we lose ourselves and our spirituality when we become subject to the superficial rules of society. There is also, of course, the auditory extension of the voice. Devi’s adaptation of Ye hum gunahgaar auratein hein represents a computerized metamorphosis of this. The fixed, constant harmonies throw an emphasis toward the voice’s innate sonic qualities, which further advance its spiritual essence. As vocalist Meredith Month (2010) suggests in an essay entitled The Soul’s Messenger, the sound of the voice has its particular blessings: “I realized then that within the voice are myriad characters, landscapes, colors, textures, ways of producing sound, wordless messages. I intuitively sensed the rich and ancient power of the first human instrument and by exploring its limitless possibilities I felt that I was coming home to my family and my blood.” From this perspective, there’s almost a revertive action whereby the externalizing of the voice refers back to its former habit — a “coming home,” as Monk suggests.

Likewise, this “rich and ancient power” is what Aïsha Devi seems to be toying with here and why she’s set out on a series of “vox tools” aimed at pervading the club with her voice. The track, says Devi, is “the second ‘vox tool’ of a series, where the idea is to invade the club with my voice, spreading some political, spiritual and subversive matter that can be mixed by DJs in clubs and raves.” Albeit, the idea of spreading spirituality within the club has its own implications. On the one hand, spirituality in this sense might be tricky when the club is understood as a normalized social construct itself. On the other hand, for some, spirituality and musical experience indeed combine when the voice is upheld by its position in a structure of shared conviction. In such cases, it is reliant on the substance of community — that is, of a “social group.” In Music, Mysticism and Spirituality, the “post-minimal” composer Peter Garland (2010) writes:

Another crucial point to emphasise is that — apart, perhaps, from a few sublime moments in the performance of Indian (India) classical music, a musical system that has its own set of deep philosophical underpinnings — I have never experienced a mystical experience with music in any concert presentation. Music as “product” or as a commodified activity does not lend itself to this, in my opinion. All of these deep experiences have taken place in the context of community — be it religious or social — and the musical expressions have been validated by their place in a fabric of interconnected beliefs and activities. I have seen some events that were indeed performances as much or more than they were rituals, but what transformed them were the shared beliefs that created a certain “gravitas” of the moment, taking it beyond mere spectacle.

This is a perspective that Devi seemingly relates to. In an interview with SHAPE, she talks about the ritualistic nature of the club: “The idea is to also underline the fact that when you’re hearing a repetitive loop, which is inherent in electronic music, it’s exactly the same as that of the old ritual music. And us humans need that ritual thing, we need to be connected in a club or a temple, and feel the experience of unity.”

In a different manner, the tracks that straddle “Aurat” sound more related to the music of Devi’s peers, such as Vaghe Stelle or Lorenzo Senni, at least on the surface. Opening track “Kim & The Wheel of Life” comprises echo-drenched saw synths, hard-hitting drums, and atmospheric pads, with extended, cyclic progressions in two distinct developments. As the founder of Swiss-based imprint Dance Noire, there’s definitely a penchant for similar references to those favored by other Dance Noire affiliates. In this case, Devi uses the Roland JP 8080 to construct a repetitive, shamanistic pattern, exploiting the synth’s brightness and high-fidelity. While sonically distinct, there’s again a spiritual basis. In particular, the repetitive nature calls to mind the essence of meditation, which Devi has long been practicing — “In meditation practice, the basic instruction is to repeatedly come back to the breath (without judgement) even if the mind has wandered off into thoughts, fantasies or emotion. The moment of coming back is a moment of awareness. Making music is very much the same process. It consists of starting at zero every time; trusting the emptiness, the space, the gift of uncertainty; not judging too quickly; letting the materials remain themselves until the time is right to weave them together into a form” (Monk, 2010).

Despite offering only three tracks, there’s a depth to Conscious Cunt that doesn’t disappoint. While provocative on a purely sonic and aesthetic front, there’s a deeper, underlying concern, posing questions that Aïsha Devi will no doubt continue to echo further on prospective output.

Links: Aïsha Devi - Houndstooth

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