PHOTO CREDIT: Javier Nomdedeu Lopez
The track, Toxic, is available via:
25th January, 2019
I have been on a bit of a run...
PHOTO CREDIT: Jon Mo
regarding female artists but, as there is so much quality out there, I do not feel like there is any need to break the run. I will cover Nadia Sheikh in a minute but, before then, I wanted to mention passion in music and sounds that definitely make you move; cultural and genre mixing that adds to a big impression; Indie-Rock sounds and whether there is a resurgence happening at the moment; the need to be inspired right now and uplifted; where Sheikh can head and how she will step as we head through 2019 – a little bit, again, about headliners and female artists (I shall leave the topic alone after this!). The reason I break down my weekend reviews to the near-mainstream (Saturday) and new (Sunday) is because, more often than not, I found I was getting sent similar-sounding artists without much of a story and background. It makes it hard to write a four-thousand-word review when you are faced with similar stuff and, as I know I can get more ammunition and inspiration from someone like Lizzo, that is why I break things up. It has been the case that, for the past few months, I have had to reject quite a bit of stuff because it is similar or not really distinct. When it comes to Nadia Sheikh, she definitely has an edge and sound that interests me. It might take a while before she is in the same leagues as the best out there but she is making her way out there. She has festival experience – which I will talk about later – and is producing something raw-yet-alluring. I am going to cover Elton John later because, not only is tomorrow his birthday, but there is a biopic coming out very soon – Rocketman is already gaining a lot of attention and speculation. We know how well Bohemian Rhapsody did at the box office and Oscars; it is a complete hit and, despite some historical and personal inaccuracies, the film fared pretty well.
One of the reasons why these films are happening and people want to see them is because, at heart, there is this catalogue of music that gets you up and energised. Think about a biopic of an artist that is a little upbeat and spirited and it does not really hold the same promise. These charismatic singers who had/have these fascinating lives; the songs that have come and how they connect with the people. I do feel like there is a bit of an absence when it comes to stomp and fun. Maybe it is because music is so large and wide-ranging that it is hard to get a proper sense of focus. Look at everything flowing out right now and can one say there is as much energy and fun as there was a couple of decades back? I do not think so and I wonder whether, as I have said before, introspection and deep emotion has taken away that sense of fun; whether artists are willing to be that submissive and feel they need to produce something deeper and more emotional. It is sad to see so little passion coming in terms of sound but I get why many do it. I have been hankering after music that gets the body moving and motivated but is has been pretty hard to find. I guess, when Lizzo releases her album, we will see a stormer that we can all get behind. It need not be a complete fire and explosion of a song: something that makes you a bit happier and can get the feet moving. That is all we ask, really! Nadia Sheikh has the potential to bring a bit of flair and kick back into music and, although it seems like I am writing people off, there are those who are pretty intoxicating and intense. In the case of Sheikh, she is someone who can mix the sort of lyrics that make you think and hold emotional weight but there is that musical attack – helped by her tight band – that adds something special.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Wells
Sheikh is half-Spanish so it makes me feel, in a way, that she brings some of that heritage into her music. I am not suggesting there are cliché Spanish sounds in the mix but one gets the feeling that something from the great country is sprinkled in the notes. Definitely, when you hear the passion in her voice and the way she can get people moving, that seems to have a very Spanish flavour. I have been to Spain seven times and, every time, revelled in the local music and how there is this intoxicating and instant charm. Maybe British artists are too rigid when it comes to sounds and, at a time when we need to embrace Europe and its people, I wonder whether we should look to the continent for inspiration regarding music. Certainly, there is enough gold and brilliance out there and I feel like a lot of it is being neglected. Sheikh has that family connection but she knows that, with a subtle bit of culture-fusion, she can get this rather electric and tangy punch that gives her music an edge. It is zesty and uplifting and it is different to everything I have heard. Not to make this political, but I feel like musicians here are probably taking heavily from the U.K. and U.S. I do not feel like we are that inspired by Europe but, when you consider, there are so many rich and diverse sounds out there. Not only does one get a sense of countries fusing within the music of Nadia Sheikh; she also mixes genres to create this big and impassioned impression. I do wonder, also, whether there is a general lack of energy in music as a whole. Maybe there is a fear that Indie-Rock is a bit of a lost genre or it is not as strong as it used to be. There are some great bands out there but I am hearing a lot more of other genres hold influence.
Sheikh’s blend of delicate vocals and an ominous Indie-Rock is great but she goes even further and dips into other types of music. I love stuff like Folk and Pop but I do feel like there is, as I said, too much emotion and delicacy. That is not to say it lacks appeal but I yearn for those artists who are broader and can get you involved. I feel like we all need a bit of a boost and kick right now so, thinking about that, I am seeking out those artists who can get us all jumping. I do feel like Rock and Indie are genres that have been overlooked or were popular years ago. I am hearing Post-Punk bands coming around but look at the mainstream and are there are as many Rock bands as there used to be? Certainly, in terms of numbers, there are fewer than there were in the 1990s and early part of this century but I do wonder whether there is too much of a stronghold by Pop. I am seeing some great Indie-Rock bands emerge but it is hard to integrate and shine in a mainstream that still is dominated by other genres – including Hip-Hop and Rap. In my experience, I feel that a lot of bands from the past have lacked originality and tastes shifted. We had the time when we idolised these bands but, more and more, the solo artists is taking over. Nadia Sheikh is a solo artist but she has a band. She has that combination of original and personal intent with some backing and strength behind her. It is actually quite rare to find a solo artist like her in music. When I think of solo musicians then I consider something gentler and less intense. I do feel like Sheikh has a definite role and chance to lead. The music she is throwing out is great and, alongside a few bands that have a similar sound, there is not a lot of company out there.
I do not feel like there is a complete recovery and rise but there are more Rock and Indie sounds coming out. Most of this is happening in the underground and I hope we see more of them come through. Look at the festival artists playing in the U.K. this year and very few of them are Rock-natured. I do wonder whether there is this reliance on certain genres or whether bands are heading in another direction. This might sound scary for Sheikh but I do feel like the wind is changing and artists like her have a chance to take advantage. One of the reasons why bands of the past struck a chord was because of the passion and the way they could unite us. They had these big choruses and anthems that got into the mind and made us all sing along. I do miss those days and, whilst Indie and Rock have changed a bit in nature, there are still those who know how to get us active and alive. In that sense, I do feel like there is hope that the scene will change and assimilate these artists into the pack. This is something I have also covered quite a bit but I do think there are very few artists out there who can get you happier and move the body. To me, music is at its strongest when we are lifted up and can feel better about ourselves. I do think there is a little too much gloom around right now and we are not producing enough music to lift the soul. Whether that comes from Pop, Indie-Rock or another genre, I wonder what has happened. I shall move on from this point right now but it is great that there are artists such as Nadia Sheikh who can step away from the predictable and obvious and create something with some physicality. Now, more than ever, we need music that can unite us and make us feel better.
Yesterday was a big day for London because we had the march against the Brexit vote; the right to stay in Europe and Article 50 to be repealed. There was a lot of protest and people on the streets and, whilst I did not go myself – it would have been so crammed and hectic out there – everything went off peacefully and there was a lot of passion to be found. I caught photos from the day and people were keen to express their support and solidarity. There is a mood percolating and enduring that is tense and afraid. Even though we have seen this strong army take to London to show their anger at the state of politics right now, we are all uncertain and not quite clear where things are headed. I do think that this country is as fragile as it has ever been. I feel there will be improvement and hope but it will take a while longer before we get that stability. Look ahead and where do we go from here? Is there going to be another general election and will we see another leader guide the country? In any case, it is clear that Brexit is going to be delayed and we are heading for another period of debate and clashes. All of this happens around us and people are getting involved. Nobody wants the country to be divided and tense and, at the moment, it is hard to break from this fog and stress. Right now, we need music to play a big role and, whether it is political or not, I feel we can all get some solace and comfort from musicians and what they have to offer. There are more politically-driven bands/artists emerging at the moment and those keen to have their say regarding the country. In my view, we need more music that provides a sense of escape and energy.
PHOTO CREDIT: Will Ireland Photography
Although Toxic does not sound like the cheeriest song out there, there is a general aura that gets you in a better space. That is an interesting observation in itself. How many songs, whether it is the lyrics or music, have a genuinely positive aspect? Every song I have reviewed for the past few weeks – with few exceptions – have had some sort of negative aspect. It seems to be a default position and, whilst not a slam against artists like Nadia Sheikh, I wonder whether artists are capable of finding light and writing music that does not have a negative edge. Luckily, when it comes to Sheikh, her punch and passion makes up for slightly unsettled moods that comes from a darker place. I listen to her music and do feel better after listening to it. There is a definite catharsis and, whist the lyrics are not exactly up there with a Beatles love song from the 1960s, one comes away with a warmer heart and more energy coursing through their veins. This is what we want from music and, at a time when we are sort of crumbling and separated, I feel music has a big role to play. We do all need that hope and connection and I think music can step up. If artists could more positive with their themes then that would be even better – maybe this side of music is something that is resigned to the past? I will conclude by looking at where Sheikh can head this year and develop but, before then, a look at headliners and arranging festivals. This year’s biggest festivals have already announced their biggest acts and it is another case of the boys taking the top slots. There are a few exceptions regarding female headlining but, largely, it is men at the summit. I do not understand why this keeps happening and why we need to fall back on the same old artists. The fact that The Killers are headlining Glastonbury when there are so many great female artists who could provide a more popular and fresh set...it is a bit baffling.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jon Mo
Not only do I want more positive and energised music to come out but, when we see female artists like Sheikh plugging and producing great stuff, there needs to be this guarantee that, in years to come, there will be a possible headline slot. I do not think changes are coming in so far and we are pretty slow to progress. I am a bit annoyed that there is not enough room for women when it comes to headliners. I do worry that we are denying so much great talent. Look at the best albums of 2019 and they have been released by women. There are some great female Punk/Rock bands who have definite verve and I feel like they could headline a festival in years to come. Right now, there is this solo dominance but, in terms of genre, not a lot regarding Indie and Rock. Definitely, when it comes to songs that have a swagger and fire in their stomachs, there is a definite gap. I shall move on from this topic now but there are great artists like Nadia Sheikh who need to know that the industry will recognise them. The industry needs to be more receptive and open and we cannot just keep booking men for the headline slots. Maybe it is too complex to unpack and solve right now but we need to sit back and make some changes. Rather than get too hung up on the inequality around us, it is time to look at Nadia Sheikh’s latest track. I do not usually review songs that have been out a while because there is not much point. I look for the new tracks that everyone else is looking at. The fact Toxic came out in January would usually mean I look for something fresher but, as its video arrived this week, I have taken it on – possibly the last review I will accept when it comes to songs that have been out there for a fair bit. Regardless, it offered me the chance to look at an artists I have not featured before and a style of music that needs to be embraced more.
The sheer rouse and sense of fun that opens Toxic hooked me right in. I watched the video as I was listening to the track and, even from the off, you are put in a better frame of mind. Sheikh and her crew create a sound that has some old-school glisten and some modern touches. It is a nice brew that is quite simple but has so many different aspects and sides working away. It is like the introduction is a conversation and dialogue. When the heroine comes to the microphone, she talks about people talking but nobody really listening. There is not a lot of understanding and people taking the time to hear. Whether she is talking about her own words being ignored – or is looking at the world in general – I am not too sure. There is something bubbling and itching under her skin and, whilst the heroine is dealing with some personal struggles, the composition keeps things buoyant and positive. Listening to Sheikh and it seems like people are dismissing her concerns and words. They say everything is in her mind and she is getting carried away. Maybe there is this feeling that people are unwilling to listen regardless of what is happening and thinking about themselves too much. She does not reveal too much about the exact origin of this ignorance and conflict but one assumes that Toxic is about a general feeling of isolation. When we come to the chorus, there is this burst that combines modern Indie and the U.S. Pop-Punk style. It is a satisfying blend and will appeal to those who want a nostalgic rush but also those who desire their music modern and fresh. You get caught up in the rush of the song and are helpless to resist its physical push. I was wondering, throughout, whether there is a particular event that has triggered the birth of the song. You need to listen a couple of times but, slowly, the truth starts to come out a bit more.
POSTER PHOTO: Derek D’Souza
The band is definitely pretty tight and they have this sense of intuition. The connection and chemistry between them makes the song really strong and electric. You dive into the words and try and get a picture of what is happening. Sheikh does not want this bitter pill and she is trying to get away from a bad situation. I instantly thought about relationships or a love that has broken down but, the more I considered, the more I looked at other avenues. There might have been some passion-heartbreak but I think the heroine has been receiving some bad vibes from other areas. The system is overflowing with poison and it is filling her mind. Even though I have suggested artists like Sheikh can uplift and unite us, one cannot help overlook the fact that, at its heart, Toxic is a song that deals with some pretty tough times. The sound and the passion the entire band puts together can definitely make us all feel better and, in a way, I think the song is more of a release than anything. Rather than dwell on the words and make people feel stressed, Sheikh is venting and getting all of this toxicity out of her system. It seems that she has faced her fair share of negativity and pain but now, in this moment, it is all flowing out. Her voice has a nice balance between sharp-toothed and calm. She never truly explodes but there is definite potency in the vocal. Mixing a sense of teenage rebellion – in a good way, rather than immaturity – and the need to be taken more seriously, the catchiness of Toxic overtakes any feeling that we are listening to quite a heavy song. As I have said, the track seems like this release and moment to shed some old skin; get rid of those doubters and start from fresh. It is inspirational in that sense and I am not hearing too many artists like Nadia Sheikh. If you listen to cooler radio stations then you might but look at the mainstream and it is still Pop-heavy. There are a lot of songs that are written by committees and seem to fit into this formula. There is a lack of naturalness and personality that seems to dominate. With Sheikh and her band, one feels this song that means a lot and will resonate with people. I recommend it highly and hope it leads to more material. There will definitely be demand for more of the same from the talented songwriter.
I hope there is a lot more coming from Nadia Sheikh because she has a sound that is instantly appealing and engaging. There are not that many artists we can say that about. I love what she is producing and think she can go a long way. She has her band behind her and, whilst they definitely make the music pop and shine, it is Sheikh who leads and strikes the hardest. I forgot to ask whether she has an E.P. out and other plans but I am sure there will be news coming up. I feel like there are opportunities ahead of her so keep an eye out when it comes to her social media channels. She is a great live performer and has played at some big festivals in her time. That experience feeds back into the music and you get a sense of someone who is completely tight and focused. The music is exceptional and I’d like to think there is more arriving pretty soon. I would suggest, like I do with a lot of artists, to get some more promotional photos onto her pages. There are a few but not that many from the past year. A few portrait images – rather than landscape – would definitely add something. There are some good live shots of her but it would also be cool to see more of the artist away from the stage. Music is a very visual medium so I do like artists that have quite a stock of photos. That is the only real suggestion I would offer as, apart from that, there is nothing really to gripe about. Sheikh communicates with her fans and we have this artist who is very hungry and excited to see what comes next. Many will wonder whether there are festival dates and plans for new material – keep your eyes set on her channels. I am a new discoverer of Sheikh so not really sure whether what she is producing now is an evolution from her older sound. Listening to her past work, one can see she has grown more confident and ambitious. The music seems to have more nuance and passion and, in terms of her writing, I think that has sharpened too. One gets a nice blend of sounds and cultures; lyrics that are relatable and we can all identity with and a sound that gets the body moving. Toxic is a song that, on paper, sounds quite harsh and unforgiving. Whilst there is some truth in that, the abiding impression is of this musical moment that makes you feel better and stays in the mind for all the right reasons. Ensure you follow Nadia Sheikh and discover what comes next. She is an engaging and appealing artist and someone who can go quite a way. I will leave things there but, if you need a bit more boost and clout in your day then make sure you head the way...
POSTER PHOTO: Derek D’Souza
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PHOTO CREDIT: Derek D’Souza