“For the first time ever, I’ve made music where I’ve been more patient,” says London-based musician, DJ and multidisciplinary artist Nabihah Iqbal, whose second album Dreamer is the result of working through a poignant period in her life.
Iqbal, of Pakistani heritage, swapped a career in law for another as an artist despite her parents’ protests. Her considerable success since then won’t leave her wondering what might have been.
Last year she released her second album, the critically acclaimed Dreamer, at the end of a tumultuous period when she lost friends and family, broke bones, was hospitalised, and had to start making her album from scratch.
“I was the sickest, I’ve ever been and that making an album was this distant faint thing that was never going to happen," Iqbal told RNZ's Maggie Tweedie.
The process started back in 2020 – before the Covid-19 pandemic – when Iqbal’s studio was burgled and the album she was working on was gone.
“I learnt the hard way about not backing up because it meant I lost two years’ worth of work.”
Her grandfather in Pakistan had a brain haemorrhage, so the next day she flew to Karachi.
It was there, whilst removed from the world at large, she found a new perspective that formed a new stripped-back approach to making music without her computer and production software.
“It affected my perspective on music. At the time, being forcefully removed from the whole scenario of the burglary felt frustrating, but it was the best thing that could have happened.”
“Instead, I had to let the ideas develop in my head.”
Amid those obstacles, she set about exploring varied and often raw soundscapes relating to personal identity and grief. The creative process involved herbal remedies from her grandparents and finding restoration in her new environment.
Iqbal wrote, recorded and produced most of the album herself excluding the live drums on four tracks. Inspired by her roots and new surroundings, she incorporated the harmonium and sitar in her music for the first time.
The music video for Dreamer was filmed in Lahore, Pakistan, over a long day she says she’ll never forget.
She is an artist in residence at Somerset House in London where she laid down early renderings of the record which drifts between synth-heavy beats, ethereal melodies and euphoric shoegaze.
Evidently keeping busy, Iqhbal has collaborated with artist Zhang Ding and been commissioned to compose music for the Turner Prize and in 2022, she was commissioned for a special project at the Southbank Centre which was realised in a spoken-word piece about the lesser-known of the Thames.
As well as hosting a regular NTS Radio show, she has toured the world as a DJ and runs her Her Glory To Sound parties in London with previous guests including Gilles Peterson and SOPHIE.
Nabihah Iqbal performing as a DJ on Fault Radio.
Night clubs, she says, are all about sharing.
“Whether it’s sharing the experience in a club or sharing your sound when you’re performing, or even sending a track to a friend, the whole point is to share. That has made me think more about ‘what is the actual community of music’ which has affected the way approach my work.”
If the past two years have told her anything it’s to be grateful for getting through turbulent times while experiencing a new lease on life as she tours the world meeting fans and performing her music.
“I’ve learnt how resilient the human body and mind can be.”
Nabihah Iqbal’s two-date Dreamer New Zealand tour takes in Wellington and Auckland.
- Tuesday, 16 January - Meow, Wellington
- Wednesday, 17 January - Neck of the Woods, Auckland