Diggers Directory: Nabihah Iqbal

London-based DJ, radio host and musician Nabihah Iqbal first rose to prominence under her former moniker Throwing Shade, but chose to shed it three years ago to embrace her birth name.

A woman with many strings to her bow, Nabihah is as known for her knowledgeable radio broadcasts and enchanting DJ sets as she is for her talents as a musician and singer. As Throwing Shade, in 2016 she released her debut EP House Of Silk for Ninja Tune, marking the beginning of a fruitful relationship which continued with her LP Weighing Of The Heart the following year — her first release under her own name.

Educated in ethnomusicology at university, Nabihah channels this passion into her musical pursuits, particularly on her regular radio broadcasts. As well as locking in a temporary residency on BBC Asian Network last year, she’s one of the longest standing NTS Radio residents, using her fortnightly transmission to explore many different strains of music from across genres, eras and countries.

With such a sprawling knowledge, Nabihah could have picked a number of focuses for her mix, but she’s chosen to home in on something that has been intrinsic to her musical education since the beginning: guitar music. Moving through different styles, from classic to psychedelic and folk to blues, she takes listeners on a spiritual journey. This sits alongside an interview about her favourite spots to dig, her eye for artwork and how music has helped define her.

Blue Magic Gentle Magic is out now on Bandcamp.

DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?

It wasn’t the case for me as my parents weren’t particularly into music and they didn’t have a big record collection or anything. The most pivotal musical moment for me growing up was discovering Michael Jackson. I was only one or two years old I think and my mum always talks about how I just got obsessed with his music. They’d taped an MJ doc off the TV and I watched it so many times that the tape completely wore out – they had to go out and buy me another MJ video to replace that one and then I just watched that on repeat too!

People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?

I just love music. It’s my favourite thing in the world. I started buying CDs when I was about 9 or 10 I’d say. I bought my first record when I was 18 – growing up it was all about CDs. I like listening to music on vinyl because it sounds really good. Plus, with the whole shift to digital and streaming, it’s just so nice to be able to hold a physical copy of music in your hands, and to be able to really study the artwork and sleeve notes. 

Where do you store your records and how do you file them?

I keep my records at home and I’ve organised them by genre. 

What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?

In London, my favourite stores are Zen Records in Seven Sisters, Allan’s in East Finchley, a secret little one in St. John’s Wood, and then all the Soho ones – Sounds of the Universe, Reckless, Phonica… When I travel, I love exploring record stores in new places because I always try and collect some local records from where I’m visiting and record stores are always a good way to get a feel of the music scene in a certain place. 

Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?

There are so many! Eugene who runs Play De Record in Toronto is a very memorable character – I’ve been to his store twice and he’s always so friendly and helpful. Tarik Omar who runs Flipside Records in Dubai is another great guy. Need to also shout out Dub Store Records in Tokyo, Honto Records in Kyoto, La Metralleta in Madrid, Laid Back Blues Record Store in Jakarta, Groucho’s in Dundee, Turntable Lab in NYC, Observatory Records in Cape Town… the list goes on! Also need to give a special shout out to the only woman I’ve ever met who ran her own record store – Sherry who ran Sherry’s Vinyl in Cairo. She sadly passed away last year but her son is continuing her legacy. 

Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?

One record I was trying to get hold of for a while was ‘Songbird’ by Cedric Brooks and I finally found it last year at Dub Store Records in Tokyo! I was quite happy about that one.

Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?

Usually, if I’m planning to have a serious digging session, I prefer being alone because then you can take your time and you don’t have to worry about your friends getting bored and having to wait for you. But of course I also do have some like-minded friends who like getting just as lost in the music, so if I’m with one of them, then that’s alright and it can be fun because we’ll pick out things for each other and listen together. 

Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?

It just depends on what I’m after or what mood I’m in. Sometimes I’ll be looking for something specific so I might ask for help from someone who works there. Other times, I’m just having a browse and I’ll pick out random things and give them a listen. 

How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?

It plays a huge role! Eye-catching artwork helps you notice different records, and it might be the thing that attracts me to it and makes me want to listen, especially if it’s something I haven’t heard of before. I definitely do pick out records based on the artwork – it doesn’t always mean that the music will be to my taste, but I’ll give it a go at least…

Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?

I decided to focus on guitar music for this mix. I’ve gone through lots of different styles: classical, folk, blues, rock, jazz, reggae… It’s all music that I love very much because I guess guitar music has been intrinsic to my musical education and experience growing up. All the music I’ve included is very spiritual and I hope the listener feels that as much as I do. 

Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?

Jimi Hendrix, of course! He is one of my musical heroes. I’ve included the extended version of Voodoo Child from the album ‘Electric Ladyland’ – I spent all my money on a first pressing of that album so it’s one of my most special records. I’ve also included one of his lesser-known tracks ‘Pali Gap’ from the soundtrack for the film ‘Rainbow Bridge’ – I love the effects on his guitar on that track. It makes it sound so liquid. I should also mention Davy Graham – another guitar hero of mine. He was a mixed-race guitarist from London and active from the late 50s onwards. He was part of the whole folk and blues scene in London at the time, which was dominated by white musicians and I always wonder how he felt about his identity at the time because it’s quite rare to come across prominent ethnic minority artists in that genre. I love his style so much and in the mix I’ve included a live recording of him playing ‘Capricho Arabe’ – one of my favourite classical guitar tunes. 

Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?

I haven’t really thought about this. I feel that anyone who loves music and buys it is a record collector. It’s a personal thing and I just admire anyone who is enthusiastic about collecting records and listening to them, no matter how small or big their collection is. 

Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?

Making my next album! And things getting back to normal so we can all dance again. 

Solid Air / John Martyn
Pali Gap / Jimi Hendrix
Allegro non troppo e serioso / Andres Segovia
Waiting for the Clouds / Steffen Basho-Junghans
The Life Divine / John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana
Almoraima / Paco De Lucia
Capricho Arabe / Davy Graham
Modern Times / Steve Khan
Do You Hear The Voices That You Left Behind? / John McLaughlin
Work All Day / Mikey Mao Chung
Wham! / Santana
I’m Going To Sit Down On The Banks Of The River / Reverend Gary Davis

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