Photos by Jacob Hodgkinson.
While it seems obvious that every musician’s debut album should feel like a summation of everything that has come before, Weighing Of The Heart feels denser and more complex than most. Her first long player perhaps holds greater significance as it represents a newfound freedom for an artist already famed for her skilful and unique channelling of diverse electronic sounds, as well as embracing more traditionally structured songs that, despite their unfamiliarity, bristle with confidence. You probably know her as Throwing Shade but, as the assuredness of her debut makes clear, it’s a moniker Nabihah Iqbal has comfortably outgrown.
“It’s a combination of different reasons and I was thinking about it and thinking about it,” she confirms, “and it got to the stage where I’m making a new record now, the music’s moving in a different direction and it could be quite an important point in my musical career, so if I’m going to make a name change, this is the time to do it.”
“I’ve been thinking about other things too: representation, who I am and being open about it as well. Up until recently, my extended family had no idea I’ve been doing music, they still thought I was doing law. Now everybody knows and that makes me feel really relieved, so it’s part of that.”
“It’s also the fact there aren’t a lot of female, Asian producers in the London music scene doing what I’m doing. I’ve had a lot of messages of solidarity from people on social media, other brown people mostly saying it’s really great to see what you’re doing and ‘I really love music but my parents want me to get a job in finance’ and ‘You’re really inspirational’. But it makes me feel like ‘OK yeah, maybe I’m doing something that’s quite trailblazing’, and there’s a responsibility that comes with it.”
If it rests heavy, you wouldn’t know it. Weighing Of The Heart would be remarkable for those feats alone, yet it contains eleven tracks of the highest calibre, each instrument arranged and played by Nabihah herself. Influenced principally by artists from her formative years, (“stuff that you listen to as a teenager sticks with you for life”), youthful obsessions with bands such as Joy Division and Oasis lurk within a more angular, guitar-based sound, although, often coupled with an old Alesis drum machine and Nabihah’s electronic roots, they never dominate the captivating soundscapes she produces. It’s a seamless blending of styles.
“I was really trying to do the opposite and not think about what I wanted it to sound like because I really feel that these days, especially in electronic music, there’s so much where you can tell that the person who made it tried to make it sound like something else. You can really tell when someone’s emulating a sound and that’s purely their motivation for making the track.”
“I just cut myself off from all of that. I didn’t listen to any new music that was coming out and everyone was like ‘oh, have you heard the new this or the new that?’ and I’d say ‘no, I haven’t heard anything, don’t play it to me’. I just wasn’t thinking about it. So it was kind of a surprise when the whole body of work started to build up and I could see where it was heading.”
While its musical touchstones may be a product of Nabihah’s subconscious, Weighing Of The Heart‘s ability to incite a response from the listener is very deliberate. If she succeeds on her pledge to make us “feel something and not just listen to it and then forget about it a few minutes later,” the specific themes are forthright and fascinating. Isolation (‘Zone 1 to 6000’), paranoia (‘In Visions’) and dissatisfaction with the state of things (‘Something More’) dominate proceedings. “I just feel like nobody knows anybody else’s true self,” Nabihah admits. “You could be hanging out with the person you’re closest to in the world, but there’s still going to be things those people would never know about you. Maybe that means we don’t actually know anyone really. It’s spurred on from that initial feeling which kind of forms the basis of a lot ideas in the album.”
Intoxicating in equal measure for both artist and listener, it appears that Weighing Of The Heart would regularly position Nabihah outside her comfort zone. “Naturally, I would veer to the more leftfield, experimental stuff but on this record the tracks are a lot more structured. Songs using a lot more vocals, first chorus parts, and that was something I wasn’t really used to at the start. But then I really pushed myself to try and do it and once I’d done it, it felt amazing because it’s actually really fun to have an idea or a message that you want to convey through music in three and a half minutes and once you’ve done it, it feels good.”
The new direction begins to make sense to the listener as Nabihah, both passionately and profoundly, details her powerful connection to making music, invigorated by the beguiling sounds from around the world that she pulls together for her NTS radio show every other week. “I’d say the main thing was being aware and thinking a lot about what music is and the power of music. In the West, we listen to music purely for music’s sake, as entertainment, and we don’t really think beyond that, even though we might experience things, which are bigger than just listening to music because you like a song. For me, I get feelings from music that I don’t get from anything else, like I’ve never experienced before. Researching more and looking at what music means to people from different cultures and how there’s so many places around the world where music is seen as a healing force and, if there’s so many cultures around the world that give it that importance, then I don’t think we can just discount it.”
“…It makes me feel like ‘OK yeah, maybe I’m doing something that’s quite trailblazing’, and there’s a responsibility that comes with it.”
So did writing Weighing Of The Heart prove to be a therapeutic experience? “I think it can be cathartic but there’s also times where it’s the opposite. The last few months of working on the record were just so intense: getting to the studio super early at like 6am or 7am and working until late and doing the same again and doing an all-nighter. My one point of solace was every night when I got home from the studio. I’d watch one episode of The Simpsons before going to sleep. It was such a palette cleanser. It really helped me because if I tried to sleep I couldn’t. I was always thinking about what I needed to do in the studio. That’s literally one of my top tips if you’re trying to write an album.”
Whether it’s Springfield, North Indian sheet music or the rekindling of a love affair with the sitar, as Nabihah Iqbal asserts: “Everything that comes out of a person creatively is a product of everything that goes in.” What makes Weighing Of The Heart such an extraordinarily personal debut is that it’s the ultimate testament to that.