Weighing Our Hearts with Nabihah Iqbal

On 21st June, we welcome Nabihah Iqbal to the Pickle Factory for a live performance. Formely known as Throwing Shade, the London-based singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist turned heads late last year, releasing her debut album as Nabihah, entitled 'Weighing of the Heart.' A marked change from the lush house and electronica she produced as Throwing Shade, Nabihah's latest work on Ninja Tune is rooted in new-wave, shoegaze and indie - a blend she fondly describes as 'guitar music.' Drawing inspiration from historic British bands such as Joy Division, New Order and Oasis, the album captures a distinct London sound, most notably on her stunning single, 'Zone 1 to 6000'.

Alongside a hectic touring schedule, Nabihah presents a fortnightly show for NTS, channeling the expansive knowledge gained from a masters in ethnomusicology into stunning hour-long episodes. Making time for a quick chat, we caught up with Nabihah following her recent trip to Egypt, to discuss Egyptian themes running through the album, the transition from DJ to live musician and the influences of her academic background.

Hey Nabihah, how’s it going? What’s new?

Hi. I’m good thanks. I've been away for the past few weeks but back in London now and getting on with loads of music etc. So much to do!

In between recent live shows, you’ve also been DJing as Nabihah Iqbal on a number of DJ sets. Having left the Throwing Shade moniker behind, would you say that your DJ sets have also come to adopt a different tone?

I don’t think there’s been a marked shift in my DJ style since changing my artist name. I still like to play all different kinds of music in my DJ sets – all stuff that’s good to dance to. I suppose there’s been more of a general evolution in the way I DJ since I started, but that’s a given I guess.

Do you feel like working with a live band and creating music in a new way has changed the way you look at/approach electronic music?

There are a lot of different things I think about when it comes to making music, but I think there’s something very special about the physicality of playing an instrument, and creating real sound as opposed to synthesized sound. This is why I’ve been focusing more on the guitar. Playing the sitar has also had a profound effect on the way I think about music, the relationship between musician and instrument, and the power of sound.

You’ve spoken about the influences of your Ethnomusicology degree in the past, using your NTS show as an outlet for your digging discoveries. Would you say that your academic background holds a strong influence over your approach to music?

For sure. Probably because I’m just a massive geek and I love learning about different types of music, and various styles and instruments across different countries. I feel like it’s important to educate yourself about music and what it means to people within different cultural contexts around the world. In the West, we’ve become accustomed to listen to music for music’s sake, purely as entertainment, but the power of music goes much further than that, and this becomes apparent as soon as you start studying about the role of music in other parts of the world.

As you’re writing to us from Egypt… can you tell us a little about the role Ancient Egypt plays throughout the album? From the title, to the artwork and the secret quotes engraved on your vinyl, it certainly feels significant!

I just got back from Egypt and the whole trip was mind-blowing! I’m obsessed with Ancient Egypt and it was my first time out there so seeing the pyramids and other archaeological finds up close was really something else. It’s impossible to describe. All I can say is that I thought seeing the pyramids in real life would help the whole thing to make more sense but in fact, it makes even less sense now! I just cannot even begin to fathom how they achieved what they did.

My album is called ‘Weighing of the Heart’ and I took the title from the Ancient Egyptian ceremony that marked the entrance into the afterlife from mortality. It’s basically the original judgment day: a person’s heart was seen to be the centre of their soul and creativity and it would be weighed on balancing scales against the feather of Ma’at, who was the goddess of the Universe. If the heart balanced, it meant you’d lead a good life and that you were in balance with the Universe, so you’d be granted entry into the next life. If it didn’t balance, you didn’t make the cut and your heart would be fed to a beast waiting by the scales. That would be the end of your life. The whole concept affords a certain insignificance to mortality.

The album artwork was my interpretation of the depiction of the ‘Weighing of the Heart’ ceremony that we find depicted on Ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls. All these scrolls together would constitute the ‘Book of the Dead’ i.e. funerary texts, and I took two quotes from this Book and secretly inscribed them on the vinyls… It took a few months for someone to discover them but the secret is finally out!

Listening to your recent interview about touring on RA’s ‘The Hour,’ you speak about your fascination with the in-flight map when travelling – is travel something that holds a big influence over your writing?

Travel is one of the most important forms of education, and I think at least subconsciously it feeds into my creative output for sure. As for the in-flight map, all my friends think I’m weird for only watching that on flights, even really long flights to places like Japan and Australia (!) but I love it. I want to know where in the world we are, the mach, the altitude, if there’s a head wind or tail wind… haha!

However, your album does seem to be firmly rooted in your experience of London – can you tell us a bit about the places you draw most inspiration from in the capital?

It’s hard for me to pinpoint specific places in London from which I draw most inspiration. It’s more like an overarching feeling of living in London and being a Londoner. One of the best things about being in a big city like this is that even though I’ve lived here my whole life and I know London really well, I can still stumble across completely new things everyday and that feels special.

Catch Nabihah at The Pickle Factory on 21st June, with support Lucinda Chua and Morning Routine's boss, Lyle.