Nabihah Iqbal: “I’m Confident in Myself Because I Know People Appreciate What I Do”

Nabihah Iqbal
Nabihah Iqbal | Credit: Joseph Hayes

NTS resident and London-based musician Nabihah Iqbal released her second album, Dreamer, via Ninja Tune in April 2023. Iqbal has put together a live band to tour the album around the world. She plans to bring the full live show to Australia in the second half of 2023.

In the meantime, Iqbal will visit the country for a run of DJ gigs, including a headline slot at Nature’s Calling for Vivid Sydney. It’s happening at the Manning Bar on Saturday, 17th June and the lineup also includes Alabama-based electronic funk act Byron The Aquarius, Arabian and North African music expert Habibi Funk and locals DJ Gemma, Deepa and Astronafrica.

Nabihah Iqbal – ‘Sunflower’

Born and raised in London, Iqbal is a British-Pakistani songwriter, producer, poet and DJ. She’s been hosting a fortnightly radio show on NTS for the last ten years, originally under her former stage name Throwing Shade. Iqbal spoke to Music Feeds ahead of the upcoming gigs in Australia.

Music Feeds: Congratulations on Dreamer. You must be thrilled to have it out after everything that’s happened since Weighing of the Heart came out in 2017.

Nabihah Iqbal: I am, yeah. It’s been really hard to make this album, so now that it’s actually done and out in the world, it’s a really good feeling. I’m really happy.

MF: It was an especially topsy turvy few years for you, going to back to before the pandemic when your studio got burgled. Then you were in Pakistan visiting a sick grandparent when the pandemic broke out, which forced you to stay much longer than you’d planned.

Nabihah: The day I was supposed to fly back from Pakistan is the day that they announced a really strict lockdown out there. So, they stopped all the flights and everything. But even when I flew out, nothing was officially locked down but Heathrow Airport was empty. It was quite weird.

MF: Were there some positives that came of getting stranded in Pakistan, in terms of spending more time with your family, taking a breath, rejuvenating?

Nabihah: 100%. It wasn’t a negative thing that I ended up being in Pakistan for two months. It was actually a blessing in disguise because it’s rare for us to be able to spend that amount of time with our grandparents. And also I was there with my mum, and I haven’t spent two months straight with my mum either for a long time.

I had really bad burnout, actually, at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. No one knew what was wrong with me but it was just from too much touring and everything. And being out in Pakistan just fixed me, because all I needed was proper rest and sun and good food and being healthy. That was amazing.

Credit: Joseph Hayes

Music Feeds: Is your mum or are your grandparents musical?

Nabihah: No. Literally no one in my family is musical. I have some aunts that can sing really nicely, but no one’s that musical, no one does music. It’s just me and then now my younger brother, who’s like following in the footsteps kind of vibe.

But my parents weren’t particularly musical growing up. They didn’t have records or things they played in the house. But they just really pushed us to do everything. So they made us do loads of music lessons and enrolled us in all the different music schools and orchestras and things like that. So, yeah, that’s probably how I got into it.

MF: As a fan of your NTS show, I’ve always been impressed by your wide-ranging tastes and the curiosity you have for different kinds of music, but also how you’re not too proud to indulge in a bit of nostalgia and play Deftones or At the Drive-In, that sort of thing.

Nabihah: I feel like if you’re truly into music then that love and appreciation is across the board. And if music’s good – like with Deftones, who are literally one of the best bands ever – then you shouldn’t think twice about it.

With DJs and music people who get all high and mighty, sometimes that’s not coming from the right place. I don’t really like that way of thinking. Obviously I get that people specialise in certain genres or they want to stick to a particular sound or they use their DJ opportunities to focus on music that they think is rare enough, or whatever. But for me, I feel confident in myself because I know that people appreciate what I do.

I play a mixture of music that can go from really esoteric and rare and things that people aren’t familiar with at all to stuff like Deftones or Outkast and all of it fits together and all of it’s amazing and it’s reflective of my listening habits and my tastes.

I remember last time I played in Australia, it was at Inner Varnika and I played a Drake song at the end of my DJ set and it got this, like, online outrage. They were like, “I can’t believe she played Drake,” and then it was this whole massive debate on Facebook. It sparked a good conversation.

MF: The beauty of a great DJ set is putting music in new contexts and allowing different kinds of songs to reflect onto each other in a way that changes your experience or interpretation of the music.

Nabihah: Exactly. And surprising the audience and throwing in some curve balls and mixing things together that you wouldn’t normally think go together but they really do. That’s just what I love doing. That’s the most fun thing about DJing.

And then you see how the crowd reacts and it’s amazing because you’re really taking people on a journey. The main thing is we just want to make them feel good and dance, but then if you keep their interest that whole time and make them really get deep into the music, then you’re doing a good job.

MF: Are there any DJs who you respect who have a similar kind of attitude to you?

Nabihah: I remember watching Moodymann quite a while ago at South By Southwest. People from that sort of generation of DJs, like even Theo Parrish and Gilles Peterson, they’re way deeper in the music than any of us lot are because they’ve just been at it way longer. And when you watch them, they’re really masters of their craft.

I remember watching Moodymann and he was just like playing Black Sabbath but then coming in and out of techno, and it just worked. There’s confidence in that and he knows that the crowd’s going to appreciate it, and it was amazing.

Nature’s Calling | Vivid Sydney

  • Nabihah Iqbal
  • Byron the Aquarius
  • Habibi Funk
  • DJ Gemma
  • Deepa
  • Astronafrica

Date & Venue

  • Saturday, 17th June – Manning Bar, Sydney NSW

Tickets on sale now. Find more details about Nabihah Iqbal’s Australian tour here.

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