In The Moment - With Throwing Shade

In The Moment - With Throwing Shade

Noisey sat down with Throwing Shade to talk about her degree in ethnomusicology, Muhammad Ali, and the joy of discovering music.
August 5, 2016, 12:07pm

Kopparberg believes that life's what you make it. That opportunity lives in every moment and all we have to do is be open to it. To see, do, feel and experience life to the fullest and share it with the people we love. There's even a saying for it in Swedish, Fånga Dagen. With the festival season upon us, In The Moment is a celebration of those artists who do it to the fullest. Those who have risen to where they are through creativity and ingenuity. Those who do it for the love of doing it. For our second instalment, Noisey sat down with Throwing Shade to talk about her career and where life is taking her.

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Unlike a lot of DJs, who tend to stick to one or two genres, London's very own Throwing Shade (AKA Nabihah Iqbal) dedicates her craft to finding new music from all corners of the globe. The London born DJ/Producer values discovery above all else, and she's constantly exploring new sounds and learning from the unsuspecting people who know about them. If you listen to a few of her shows on NTS radio, you'll probably be introduced to more tracks, artists, and even genres in a couple of hours than you were in the past six months. Her sets embody a willingness to take a chance, explore the unknown, and expose listeners to things they haven't heard. Yet this approach, for all its associations with spontaneity and risk, was nurtured in the relative formality of higher education.

After taking a degree in Ethnomusicology from SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies), Nabihah went on to study for an MPhil in African History from Cambridge. This led to a six month stint as a human rights lawyer in South Africa, the kind of role that most assume would leave a person with little time for other interests. Yet her studies had instilled a passion that was hard to ignore, and she decided to pursue music full time. It seems like a bit of a crazy decision, but when you're one of those people who appears to be good at everything, seizing whatever opportunity that comes along, no matter how small, is probably the right thing to do.

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She was soon given her bi-weekly slot on NTS Radio after she appeared as a guest on another show. The station manager happened to be listening and he immediately knew she needed to be a regular. The London-based radio station has given a platform to some of the most innovative DJs around (think Gilles Peterson, Jeff Mills, Theo Parrish) and seeing as it's always valued a non-commercial, diverse approach to music, Throwing Shade fit right in.

When you hear her sets, which feature everything from Prince to aboriginal Australian music, you can see why she quickly built a dedicated following of curious listeners. Her latest EP was released through Ninja Tune, thanks to a chance encounter with an NTS producer who worked for the label. Like her legions of global fans, his colleagues already loved her stuff. House of Silk soon followed, dropping last March.

Before discussing Muhammad Ali and how she asks cab drivers for music tips, we thought we'd get Throwing Shade to tell us how academia shaped her musical interests.

Hi! What exactly is ethnomusicology?

It's studying music. That's it. But it's been given this title by academics as a way of referring to music from around the world that's not necessarily western music. But essentially it's studying music, studying cultures and seeing what role music plays in people's lives.

What inspired you to pursue so many interests?

I guess it comes from my parents. When I was young they pushed me to do different things. I'm really glad that they did that, because I think it's really important for everyone to not be one dimensional, whether it's doing sport or writing or whatever.

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You play a huge range of genres from all corners of the globe - what's your process behind finding all of this different music?

I discovered a lot of stuff while I was studying at Uni, and that really broadened my horizons. Nowadays I try and find new music by going to record stores, as well as just by speaking to people - I think that's a really good way of finding out about music, even chatting with your Uber driver and asking them what music they're into, because they're normally from a different country. And whenever I travel to another country I always make a point of chatting to the taxi drivers about music. They'll always play me stuff. YouTube is also a really good way of finding new things. I also read a lot on different music and cultures.

When there's so much music to be discovered, why do most DJs tend to stick to one genre?

Because it's easy, that's why. It's really annoying because when I DJ my whole point is to mix it up a bit, like take people by surprise. People who are dancing and into the music, they get it, and they love it. But then you get these really heavy music journalist-types, who are like 'what the fuck?' They don't understand, because if they actually tried to DJ they would realise that if you play a straight techno or house set, it's way easier than if you try and mix it up. So it's not just being adventurous, there's a different level of skill that's required. I think sometimes DJs feel too nervous about dropping a track which they worry might be seen as controversial, but I don't care about that.

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Then do you think most DJs are too concerned with playing it safe, as opposed to dropping a track that people might never have heard before?

I think maybe they're just too self-conscious. Other DJs have made comments to me like 'oh my God I wish I just played the kind of stuff that you play'. Well you can - just play it!

What went into creating your recent Muhammad Ali show? Because you found some pretty amazing stuff at a really short notice…

I put that together quicker than anything else I've ever done. On that day I'd woken up really early, because I had to finish off some work. I think I woke up at around 6am or something. I went on my phone and I saw the news about Muhammad Ali and I thought oh my God and - I don't know - I just got some crazy energy from somewhere, and I thought that 'today's NTS show has to be a tribute to Muhammad Ali'. So then I spent the whole morning researching on the internet and putting together some kind of obituary-style narrative, with loads of music that was written about him or inspired by him. To be fair I didn't even realise how many songs had been written about him until I started doing the research. It's crazy.

You played one song where Ali's actually the lead singer. Did you know he was a singer at all?

I didn't know that, no. I think there were a couple of tracks where it was Ali doing the vocals. He was really good at singing as well. He's just amazing.

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I guess that's a good example of how you can discover really great music in a pretty short period of time.

Yeah. I think if you're into something, you'll find it. Whether you're into collecting comics, or cars, or whatever it is, if you've got a passion then you'll know how to find out all you can about it.

What kind advice would you give to someone wanting to discover new music, because I think a lot of people do kind of struggle with it?

Be open-minded. Listen to old music. Go into a music store and pick out stuff that you like the look of, even if you don't know what it is, and try to give it a listen. And if you like any of that stuff then try and read up on it, or just put it into YouTube and it will give you the suggested videos. That's a really good way of finding out new things that are also kind of connected to what you're already listening to. If you go into a record store just ask the people who work there - especially at the few old record stores that are left in London. The guys who are working there are normally really helpful and will be happy to give you suggestions.

Given everything that's happened in the world in 2016, what country or culture's music should more of us be listening to?

I think in these desperate times you should just be listening to any kind of music that makes you feel better or gives you a bit of hope. I don't know. For me, I've just been listening loads of Prince this year - for obvious reasons. That's been really helpful. So yeah, right now I'd say listen to Prince.

Read more 'In The Moment' articles here​​.