Nabihah Iqbal


Liam Murphy

May 22, 2023

Tracks in this feature

Tracks in this release

Hopeful wistfulness springs from this collection of tracks, some euphoric guitar-driven wanderings and some direct electronic hits

DREAMER originated from the sharp point of two tragic happenstances for writer and artist Nabihah Iqbal. A burglary carried out on her studio in 2020 saw her upcoming album and other creative works snatched from her. Shortly after this, Nabihah was on a plane to Karachi following the news her grandfather had suffered a brain haemorrhage. Around her, the world buckled under the weight of an invisible menace. She would spend much of the pandemic in Pakistan, removed from the scene of the crime, adrift in a new reality.

It’s impossible to ignore the yearning laced through DREAMER for this reason. Those listening without reading about the background of the album will still hear the sounds of an artist at a point of major realisation. Thankfully, she takes to this with vitality and an improvisational spirit imbued in her by her time spent away from the UK. Sporting a refreshing openness in its varied styles, though beautiful in its entirety, the album does not make for a smooth ride. Its title, however, does offer the listener the end of a thread by which to pull themselves through. Appearing as if wrenched from their initial contexts and placed, the tracks often present a clash in terms of genre and sound. An unsteady montage of Nabihah through which the listener often struggles to make her out. But a sense of dreamlike meaningfulness remains ever present.

In The World Couldn’t See Us, a driving rhythm offers a perfect dramatic pace for dulcet, angsty guitars to peel off from. The determined melody, playing out like an 80s rock ballad, conjures dramatic close-ups and stalwart faces to mind, dripping with a coolness matched by Nabihah’s deadpan vocal delivery. Here, the artist’s restlessness is seen through the lens of remembering happier days, “when life tasted sweet and fate was a friend”. Her lyrics deal in absolutes, a romantic impression of the past where her and a loved one moved against the grain, testing and straining the world that wasn’t able to keep them tied down. With her nonchalant delivery, Nabihah appears fairly clearly here, wavering slightly through the gossamer folds of emotive guitar.

Compare this then to the Nabihah inhabiting Lilac Twilight, a floating and half-awake guitar jam in which we can only locate the artist by listening intently to the euphoric textures, her voice blending with lashing melodic guitars left to echo almost endlessly. Nabihah’s time spent in Pakistan evidently allowed her to approach songwriting with more freedom. The simple tones of this track are intuitive, most probably a product of improvisation, the layering and effects used blurring the artist into near-complete obscurity. A Tender Victory also finds vocals bathed in a wash of guitar, this time a steady kick drum moving us forward with determination. Similarly, on Sweet Emotion (lost in devotion) Nabihah’s vocals give an endearing innocence, as if finding her way to the next note instinctually. A softness in her tone feels reminiscent of UK legend Sade and contrasts with the sharp resonance of the synths.

But, in tracks like Gentle Heart, we’re back spectating Nabihah in clear surroundings. Saccharine instrumentation calling out with a simplistic house beat, lyrics delivered clearly and matter-of-factly once again. A description of a girl pushing her way through the big city slowly becomes an evocation of positivity and spiritual beauty, a call to, “Let your gentle heart with pleasure dance, and let your arms embrace this mortal chance”. It should come as no surprise that Nabihah is based in London either, as tracks like this drip with a stylishness fairly easily attributed to the UK’s capital.

DREAMER is an amalgamation of different styles held together by a sense of hopefulness. In facing hardship, Nabihah Iqbal chooses to approach life with an infectious adoration of its beauty even amid struggles. From washed out extemporisations that glisten in the sun, to clean-cut rhythmic numbers featuring stylish spoken vocals, DREAMER allows the artist to approach songwriting in a number of ways and rewards listeners with a pure and spellbinding listening experience.