Nabihah Iqbal took her alias from the seminal film Paris Is Burning, a documentary on the gay ball scene in 1980s New York. Specifically, to ‘throw shade’ is to publicly criticise or express contempt for someone. In short, it’s a general act of sassiness, though it’s hard to imagine Nabihah Iqbal exercising such disdain when she approaches everything in her field with such open arms.
Growing up in London, a hotbed of fractured musical cultures, it wasn’t until Iqbal studied at SOAS that she fully embraced her global ethos. After stumbling across the Kora, a West African harp, Iqbal was instantly drawn to discovering the music missing from many Western palettes. As well as playing guitar in a noise band, she went on to study ethnomusicology, master the sitar and accrue an expansive knowledge in “weird and wonderful music from across the globe”.
After finishing university, Iqbal went on to study as a lawyer. Getting the call to the bar in 2012, she travelled to South Africa to work for a women’s legal centre. As she explained, working for women’s rights in the rape capital of the world was “pretty brutal, but an amazing six months”, and of course, a great way to experience Cape Town’s vibrant music scene.
Now living in London, Iqbal’s focus is solely on her music. Applying the same open- minded approach to production, her playful constructions pluck from elements of grime and techno while exploring a sound that Kassem Mosse has dubbed ‘cosmic RnB’. And with her increasingly popular NTS show applying a systematic approach to disparate styles from across the globe, she’s quickly becoming one of the London scene’s most distinctive voices.
Let’s talk about your NTS show. How did that come about?
I went on Thristian’s Global Roots show as a guest, to play the kind of stuff I play on my show really. It was just serendipity because the station manager was listening at the time. As soon as we finished the show he called up and said ‘who’s that girl? We need to give her a show’. It makes me feel really lucky because they get hundreds of requests every day from people who want shows. And to be honest it’s doing really well, it’s become one of the most popular shows on the station.
It seems like your Muslim Jazz special was a turning point in terms of listeners.
It has gone viral [laughs]! By my standards anyway. I didn’t know how it would go down, every time you hear of Muslims now in the press… well they’re not getting a lot of good press, and people have so many conflicting opinions. It was nice to present things in a different light, and I can’t believe how well received it was.
What’s the general vibe like in the NTS studio?
It’s on a square in Dalston called Gillett Square, which is always quite lively. There’s always some other music going on, and probably some drunks, and a lot of Ethiopian men hanging around, and kids. There’s always a lot going on, because it’s in Dalston, which is where everyone always is who’s ‘cool in London’ or whatever is, and you always get people dropping in.
Let’s talk about your production. How did the Ominira release come about?
That was pretty crazy actually. Ominira is obviously Kassem Mosse’s record label, and I think he found out about me through NTS and went onto my Soundcloud and heard Mystic Places. He sent me a message under an alias asking me to do a release. He sent me a link to the label and when I saw it was Ominira, I realised it was Kassem Mosse. He’s someone that I really respect in music. Everything after that just went really smoothly, he’s a really nice guy.
Your work so far has been very visual. How much do you consider the visual element your production?
I think that it is really important to think of ￼￼the way that music is represented visually. All three [EP] artworks are collaborations with different girls, which I like, because as a girl producer I like a bit of girl power. It’s good to link up with other girls and support each other with creative stuff.
Is this idea of challenging gender stereotypes something that you’re keen to continue exploring?
Definitely, because I think it needs to be done more. The fact that I’m a female producer, for me that’s quite an important element of who I am, so I try to be conscious about it. One of the things that I want to do is work with male rappers, I think that’s a thing that needs to be done.
Your Happy Skull release seems more dancefloor focused than your previous productions.
Everything else I’ve made has been quite downtempo, because that’s what naturally comes out. So I set myself a challenge of trying to make something more upbeat. Also because my mum was nagging me so much about it, she was like ‘you need to make something that people can dance to’, so I was like ‘OK fine!’ [laughs] But normally her advice is like ‘why can’t you just make music like One Direction, look how successful they are!’
￼What was the idea behind the video for Sweet Tooth?
Sweet Tooth I guess is a song about a boy, and I wanted to make a music video with loads of hot boys in it, because you never see that, it’s always the other way around. So even though it might seem quite face value when you watch the video, I was really conscious of the fact that I wanted to try and challenge gender stereotypes. You always just see women being objectified I think that it’s really important to think of in music videos, and I wanted to objectify boys from a girl’s perspective. So that’s what I did, and it was a whole day of boys just wearing boxer shorts and pouring honey over their heads and stuff.
Do you take a different approach to your club sets than you do in your NTS show?
If I tried to play Siberian throat singing in a club, well it wouldn’t go down very well [laughs]. I save my NTS show to play all the weird and wonderful music that I’m really interested in and I want to share, because a lot of it is quite rare and I want to talk about it. I DJ a lot around London, my main aim is just to make people dance. It’s always a mix of stuff, I really like mixing unexpected tracks together, in a weird mash up. I’ve been doing this one with Rihanna, Pour It Up over some Arabic dance mix, and everyone’s always like ‘ohmygod!’
Catch Throwing Shade on NTS monthly, Saturday 1pm-2pm