We spoke to the musician, DJ and presenter about identity, representation, and her new series of talks at Somerset House Studios.
As I chat to Nabihah Iqbal, who has kindly agreed to be interviewed over the phone while on a train in France, I’m struck by the sheer number of creative outlets into which the young DJ, broadcaster, presenter and, now, talk-host pours her energy to. Iqbal’s achievements in 2018 alone are more than many in the music industry manage in years: she released her debut album, Weighing of the Heart, hosted a radio show on NTS, DJ’s more parties and club nights than you had hot dinners, and more.
Her latest endeavor, a series entitled “Glory To Sound”, comes as part of her residency with Somerset House Studios, a new experimental platform connecting young artists, makers and thinkers with audiences. The idea for Iqbal’s series is to convey the power of music, and show how many of our strongest emotions and experiences are triggered by listening to, or playing it.
By the end of our conversation, Iqbal’s ability to juggle initiatives without sacrificing the quality of any of them makes total sense. This is someone who, somewhat uniquely, is dedicated to looking beyond the exterior, and finding depth and meaning in areas where others might settle for scratching the surface. It is this considered, intelligent approach which makes each of her ‘things’ – be it commanding a crowd or interviewing Wolfgang Tillmans – unmissable.
We chatted to Nabihah about Glory To Sound, identity and representation, and London’s promising young Jazz scene.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your Somerset House Studios residency?
I’ve been a resident at Somerset House Studios since April, and it feels really good to be a part of that family. Being a studio resident there means you can try and put on your own projects within the spaces of Somerset House.
What prompted you to start the series?
Glory To Sound is something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now. The idea is to put together a series of events which go straight to the core of why we love music, and the power of music. When I think back to parties in London ten years ago, it was a lot more about DIY, and putting things on for the sake of music and having fun. Nowadays nearly everything seems to be fuelled by branded content and the way that events are organised, hosted, and attended has completely shifted. I’m trying to provide a little brea away from that, and take things back to the core: just music. One branch of it is putting on music events – we’ve got some in January and February next year, and a club night in the dungeon of Somerset house. Then, also, we have this talk series, where I’ve invited people who I really admire.
How do you select people for the talk series?
They’re not necessarily related to music – for example, David Olusoga the historian did the first talk, and Wolfgang Tillmans is doing the one this week. It’s just people who I think will speak about music from quite an interesting and refreshing perspective. I’ve asked them to pick ten tracks which mean something to them, and ask them why, how it relates to their work, and get them to talk about it. There’ll be an audience there, so we can have a collective listening experience, sitting in the room for those few minutes and listening to the music, rather than listening on the go or on a laptop.
Who do you think is doing interesting stuff in the UK creative scene at the moment?
London right now is really getting a big reputation for its Jazz musicians and the Jazz scene, and I think that’s really exciting. All these young musicians coming up now, like Mansur Brown, Yussef Dayes, Nubya Garcia, Sarathy Korwar…they are re-inventing and re-appropriating Jazz music in 2018. It provides a strong contrast to the electronic, poppy music of the mainstream, so I quite like that. Also, old record shops, like Zen Records, are doing a lot right now; even though they’ve been around for such a long time, their role is very important in keeping that whole scene alive.
How important do you think initiatives like SHS are in helping to foster more young creative talent?
They’re really important for sure. Somerset House used to be a palace, one person’s house. Three different queens lived there. The fact that a whole section of that building has been taken over by young creatives, all working in different disciplines…it makes you think a lot about history, and how things change over time and what it means. Who’s going to be there in a thousand years? Well- if the building’s still there (laughs). It’s testament to the energy of London. I really like the idea of taking over buildings, and re-interpreting what they’re for; re-appropriating them. I feel like there could be a lot more of that, for sure.
You are a musician, producer, DJ and broadcaster…how important is it for you to have that creative variety in your day to day life?
It feels very natural. My interest in music is so broad, and I get so many different emotions and feelings from the different things I do; making my own music is one thing, but DJing, hosting radio shows, putting on events…the whole thing together is even more fulfilling to me. I feel like making music can be quite an insular, isolated experience when you’re recording in the studio, but it’s so much about sharing, and collective experience, so these other activities lend themselves to that.
Your debut album, Weighing of the Heart, saw you shed your old alias Throwing Shade – why did you feel like you need to change?
It’s something that I’d been thinking about for years. As you start getting older, you begin to think about identity and representation. I’ve received a lot of messages from people, especially ethnic minority people, telling me that it’s really inspiring for them to see me doing what I’m doing and, when I started getting that sort of response from my fans, it made me feel like there was a greater responsibility. In the world of DJing or electronic music, the kind of world I operate in, you don’t really see a lot of people with, you know, different names, or using their real names proudly, and saying “I’m here, this is me.” It’s something very simple, using my real name, but at the same time it’s quite a political thing, I think. It feels really good, like a natural progression.
What’s next for you?
This year’s been so busy for me, basically touring the album. I’ve got a few more shows lined up till the end of the year, then I’ll focus more on making new music and on the next record or album. Hopefully I’ll be able to put something together to release next year. That’s the plan anyway – you can’t really plan creative epiphanies, but that’s the idea!
Catch Iqbal in conversation with Wolfgang Tillmans at Somerset House’s Lancaster Rooms New Wing on Friday 7th December.