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District is a digital & physical magazine that focuses on the internal and external creative influences on Ireland that make it culturally significant. Our magazine is published quarterly. Get Issue 001 here and Issue 002 here. We also publish a weekend preview every Tuesday highlighting the best things going on in Dublin. For music submissions or if you’re interested in contributing contact editor@districtmagazine.ie. For advertising queries get in touch with our head of sales in Ireland & UK Craig Connolly craig@districtmagazine.ie

September 6, 2018Feature

Formerly known as Throwing Shade, Nabihah Iqbal released her debut album under her given name via Ninja Tune in 2017. She’s also a resident on NTS where she explores music from every corner of the globe and has collaborated with all manner of visual and sonic artists during her career. Hannah O'Connell speaks with her for the cover of the September Guide ahead of her set in Dublin with Fringe Festival on September 15.

Nabihah Iqbal plays at the District Magazine x Fringe Festival show on September 15. Tickets here.

 

“I can’t imagine a world without music, really, or having a life where I couldn’t listen to it. For me it’s sustenance, it’s as important as food or water. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s so true. It’s sustenance for the soul. There are feelings I get from music that I don’t really get from anything else in my life.”

Nabihah Iqbal’s love for music is infectious. As her soothing tones emanate from the phone she transports me across the globe with tales of ancient religions and learnings of unusual instruments and the sounds of different cultures. In addition to DJing, performing and producing music, she has a bi-weekly radio show on NTS. Every other Tuesday you can tune in to listen to her play and discuss a fascinating collection of songs from around the world. Past shows include an Egyptian special, a show entirely focused on South African jazz, or if 80s Japanese releases are your thing, she’s got you covered.

“You’ve got to be open and receptive all the time,” she explains on the topic of discovering new artists.

“There’s no one way of doing it. Sometimes I’ll literally just hear a track and Shazam it or when I go record shopping I spend a lot of time in all the stores going through records trying to find some new music. Sometimes it’s through YouTube. Sometimes it’s music that friends are playing for me or sharing with me.”

She recently shouted out on her Facebook page for people to share their sounds with her and got a great response. “I was inundated,” she tells me enthusiastically.

“The reason why I like doing that is because you’re hearing bedroom producers, people who don’t really have any other way for their music to get heard and you wouldn’t necessarily just come across it that easily. There’s so much good stuff out there.”

Between 2009 and 2017 Nabihah was making music and organising parties under the moniker Throwing Shade. She put out several releases under the pseudonym and stuck with it until last year when she decided it was time for a transition to her given name; Nabihah, meaning intelligent in Arabic, and Iqbal, the Persian word for luck. “People still come up to me and instead of saying, ‘Oh, you’re Nabihah’, they’ll be like, ‘Throwing Shade!’ – that’s not my name anymore! But I know the reason they’re doing it. They’re afraid to say my name wrong. The whole point of me switching to my real name is to try to get it normalised and for a different name not to be a big deal.

“I’m glad I’ve done it,” she continues.

“But it was a hard decision to make. The response has mainly been overwhelmingly positive. We’ll just have to see. It feels weird to see my real name on flyers and stuff now, but it’s good and you’ve got to represent.”

 

Nabihah was born in 1980s London to parents who emigrated to the UK from Pakistan. Oasis and Michael Jackson soundtracked her formative years. Then puberty hit and with it came a new-found love for punk and metal. In her late teens she got into The Cure, Joy Division, Sigur Rós and Radiohead. Leaving school, she embarked on an interesting educational journey, now boasting a degree in History and Ethnomusicology, a degree in Law and a masters in South African History.

“I think studying ethnomusicology was really important because it broadened my horizons and it made me think about music in different ways. It’s not just listening to music for music sake but thinking more about the depth and the power of music and what it’s capable of, how people interact with it and trying to figure out what it means. Those are the sort of things that I’m thinking about when I’m making music.

“One of the main things I learned was that beyond the West, music means a lot of different things to people in different cultures. It has a much more prominent role, whether it’s healing or celebration, invoking spirits or religion.”

“Why do we want to live? What drives humans? Is there a shared common experience?"

In December Nabihah put out her debut full-length, ‘Weighing of the Heart’, via Ninja Tune. It’s an 11-track record full of hazy vocals, synths and undeniable 80s pop influences. Easy listening at its most interesting. The title is a reference to an ancient Egyptian ritual where the hearts of the dead are weighed against a feather. If the heart proved to be lighter than that of the feather, the deceased had led a virtuous life. For further reading please see spell 125 in Book of the Dead.

“I’m very interested in a lot of the ancient belief systems,” she answers.

“When you look at the ancient religions, whether it’s from ancient Egypt, the Samarians, or the Mayans, even South American and Mexican stuff, these sort of belief systems, there are two really important things for me in all of those. One is, since humans are in equilibrium with nature, and nature is really respected, it’s all about balance and interchangeability and the other is that there’s no hierarchy between the male and female genders. Whereas with all modern day religions, I find, it’s basically religion for men by men and women are hardly referred to at all and if they are, for example, Virgin Mary, she’s only a figurehead because she’s a virgin. That’s the importance of her.

“It’s the same in other religions where there are all these rules for women, like how to act and how to be and what to look like, and I just don’t agree with that because I feel like nobody should really tell anybody else what they should look like or what they should wear.”

Nabihah tackles big questions on ‘Weighing of the Heart’ – “Why do we want to live? What drives humans? Is there a shared common experience? Like our lives, me in London, you in Dublin, would be so different to a kid in Yemen, but we’re all here on this planet we’re all just trying to do our thing” – but it never feels overwhelming. It welcomes you to listen again and again and slips in as the backdrop to whatever activity you happen to be doing at the time, while still demanding your attention. A near perfect juxtaposition.

When beginning a new track, her go-to instruments are the guitar or synth, but she also loves her sitar and has experience working with classical Thai music, Middle Eastern ensemble and gamelan, Indonesian percussion. Vocals usually come towards the end of the process as she doesn’t just rely on lyrics to convey her desired message, that’s the job of her instruments too.

“I’m trying to make music that people will have an emotional response to, that’s really my main aim. That’s what I think about when I’m making music and I think I’ve succeeded because I’ve been getting pretty crazy stories from people listening to my record all around the world saying it makes them cry and think about stuff they haven’t thought about for ages.

“The main thing I want to do is create music which evokes that emotional response, whether it’s good or bad. I just don’t want music that someone listens to and then forgets about two minutes later. I feel that happens a lot. Obviously, everyone’s tastes are different and there will be people who listen to my music who don’t like it, but for the people who could like it, I just want it to trigger some sort of connection with them. Whatever that is.”

 

On September 15 Nabihah will make her Irish debut with a DJ set in The Sewing Factory as part of Dublin Fringe Festival. Those in attendance are in for a night filled with sounds from across the globe, tied together seamlessly by the eclectic selector.

“Whenever I DJ I just want to make everybody dance. My musical taste is really broad and that is definitely reflected in my DJ sets. I try and play a lot of different things and mix them together in an unexpected way… I just try to get everybody on a journey of feeling good on a dance floor, because that’s what the role of a DJ is.

“Hopefully it will be a fun night. I think it will be because there’s so much cool music from Dublin and there’s loads of people that I’ve been in touch with over the last couple of years, different DJs and producers, and I can’t wait to meet them!”

Nabihah Iqbal plays a District Magazine x Dublin Fringe Festival party at The Sewing Factory on September 15.

Words: Hannah O'Connell / Photography: Thomas Chatt 
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