Spotlight: Nabihah Iqbal

It’s not always easy leaving the past behind, turning away from something that holds countless memories, successes, trials and tribulations. For Nabihah Iqbal, the announcement of her debut LP ‘Weighing Of The Heart’, soon to be released through Ninja Tune, personifies a sea change for the London-musician. As Throwing Shade, she’s the NTS Radio regular who pulls from Earth’s musical sources to craft hour-long journeys into sound. Nabihah Iqbal continues to be all those things, but while ‘Throwing Shade’ is a name that embodies her past, Nabihah Iqbal is one that represents her future.

“I chose the name ‘Throwing Shade’ in 2009 when I was DJing across London, and I had no idea what it would turn into,” says Iqbal over a distorted phone connection. “But the journey and process I’ve been on over the past 18 months recording my album, basically working solid in the studio and thinking a lot about what I’m doing, I came to this conclusion that I’m going to start using my real name. I’ve been thinking more about myself as a person, my place in music and what I’m trying to do, like the fact that there are hardly any south asian females doing what I’m doing. I get messages all the time from people…other brown people, who tell me how they’re inspired by what I’m doing. I don’t really know what to say to that sometimes, but I’m occupying a position where I can inspire people and motivate them to do what they want, so now, I want to say yeah, this is who I am, and this is what I’m doing.”

When I was thinking about the name change I started getting all these thoughts and feelings that I would get as a kid at school, too,” Iqbal goes on to say. “I’d think back to when the teacher would get to my name in the register, and I just knew that they were going to say it wrong. When you’re a kid that stuff really embarrasses you, y’know, so I was thinking that maybe I should just stick with Throwing Shade, maybe my name’s too ‘ethnic’, but then I took a step back and said ‘woah, that’s not a good way to be thinking.’ Subliminally, I got in touch with parts of my memory that made me think I couldn’t use my real name, and it shocked me. Then it made me want to use it even more.”

From the moment Iqbal adopted the Throwing Shade moniker she was turning hidden pockets within not-yet-completely-gentrified areas of London into makeshift rave spaces. Tucked away from the camera flashes of tourists in Leicester Square an old library was kitted with a Funktion One to launch her debut EP ‘Mystic Places’ on Kassem Mosse’s Ominira imprint. “Everybody was raving it up in-between the book stacks,” she tells me of that night in 2013. But even earlier Iqbal was part of SHEIKHA, the now sadly defunct London club-night that used laundromats to house late-night dancehalls and pre-empted pop’s next wave, too. Sophie, the ‘Lemonade’ sipping stalwart of PC Music, was a SHEIKA before setting out to turn pop on its head. So too were Palmistry and Felicita, two fast-risers who are both bending dancehall and hyperactive pop in their own unique ways.

“It’s so amazing to see how that very grassroot beginning has propelled people into making music as something more serious,” she says of her peers’ successes. On a personal note, for Iqbal, those early parties showed her how performance doesn’t need to be set within four basement walls. “From the start there was always a desire to create a musical event in spaces that were interesting, so therefore you’re always trying to create a multi-sensory experience. You’re thinking about the space, the visuals and the music, and I guess that motif has been with me throughout my career. I think that fed into bigger things.”

More recently, those ‘bigger things’ have stretched out far beyond what we usually pigeonhole into the ‘DJ/producer’ tagline. The first UK exhibition by arguably the most important artist of recent times, Jean-Michel Basquiat, was soundtracked by several performances by Iqbal as part of the nitroBEAT Pit Party. She’s perhaps the only artist to have both performed at the Tate and dedicated a record to grabbing Drake’s attentions – the fittingly titled ‘4Drake’. Her music exists in two worlds in tandem, and perhaps that’s because her studio experiments take their roots in inspirations outside of simply a dark studio. “Well, my studio has an window which is quite unusual,” she says. “But there are feelings I get when I’m listening to music that I don’t get from anything else,” she says. “Whether you’re in a club and a track comes on that transports you to a different place, or a track on the radio makes you feel a way that you’ve never experienced before. I find that fascinating, it’s like, ‘what is that response?’ “

“It clicked a little when I got back from Glastonbury,” she goes on to say. “I was hanging out with my Grandad watching Radiohead’s headline set and he told me ‘I’m observing the power of music’, and I was like, totally. What is going to make 200,000 people come to this place, and listen to these people play music? You can’t help but wonder what the deeper connections and attractions of that are, and that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.”

These deeper connections to music are themes Iqbal has long-explored. She’s a SOAS undergraduate in ethnomusicology, exploring the hidden music of disparate cultures through her long-standing show on NTS Radio. Rarities within the Michael Jackson back-catalogue, the spirituality of Muslim jazz or journeys through dub to toast the Chinese new year, Iqbal’s NTS Radio show is a borderless audial broadening of the horizons. She breathes new life into field recordings from ‘50s Malawi, while on 2016’s ‘House Of Silk’, builds kaleidoscopic soundscapes designed for transcendental club experiences. You’re just as likely to hear Shanks & Bigfoot’s ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ in one of her sets at 2am as you are early-90s Algerian bangers or bubblegum techno, and she speaks about each record with equal enthusiasm. “The most important thing for me in my music is to evoke some emotional response in the listener. Something that makes them think, or feel, rather than it be in the background and be lost in that way,” she says.

By her own admissions, Iqbal has been looking to the past to inspire her present. “When I was making the album I couldn’t listen to any other music, I didn’t want to be influenced by anything, especially new music,” she says. “I went into the studio without any inhibitions, and I wasn’t thinking about what I wanted to make or how I wanted it to sound. I was channelling my formative years, the time when you first start getting into music, and I think that whole era for anyone would stick with them for life.” A time before ‘Throwing Shade’, I ask, when you were Nabihah Iqbal. “Definitely,” she replies. “It made me realise ‘well, now, this is me.’ “

Nabihah Iqbal performs alongside Gilles Peterson, Julio Bashmore, Moxie, Romare live and many more on 24th November. More info and tickets can be found here: http://bristolinmotion.com/event/worldwide-fm/