Photo Credit: Carina Najia
Nooriyah, London-based producer and DJ, is paving the way to globalise South West Asian and North African (SWANA) sounds, by combining them effortlessly with Western pop hits ranging from Kanye West to the Black Eyed Peas. Ever since her viral Boiler Room set, where she brought in her father who demonstrated his mastery of the Oud (a traditional 11-string Arabic instrument), Nooriyah has been building an incredible community of supporters with a deep appreciation for SWANA culture and music.
Ever since I first witnessed the magic of Nooriyah’s SWANA sounds at the Jazz Café a few months ago, I have been eagerly waiting to attend her set at Evolutionary Arts Hackney (EartH) on June 10th, which understandably sold out in under 24 hours!
The atmosphere that Nooriyah was able to create the first time I watched her perform at the Jazz Café was simply electrifying, I truly thought it would be impossible to beat. After all, the entire crowd knew every word to every sample she mixed with, the sound of zaghrootas (the Arab way to express happy emotions, translating to ‘ululation’) echoed throughout the venue, and one fan even belly-danced in front of the decks. But upon walking into EartH, I quickly realised that her performance at the Jazz Café was not a one-off: the energy at EartH was overwhelming, the crowd was effortlessly cool, dancing and singing to the music whether they knew the samples or not.
Before Nooriyah took the stage, I was lucky enough to catch the end of Freshta’s set, another incredible London-based DJ influenced by her Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage, just as she began to play the Palestinian anthem, ‘Dammi Falastini’ (translating to “My Blood is Palestinian”) by Mohammad Assaf, a celebration of Palestinian culture and identity, which was very special to me.
It’s undeniable that Nooriyah’s set was incredible, but what she has been able to master particularly well is her ability to cater her sets to her audience. Performing at EartH, a youthful and edgy North-East London venue, not only allowed her to access a much more diverse crowd including many fans from non-Arabic descent, but also gave Nooriyah the perfect opportunity to include grime samples such as ‘Doja’ by Central Cee, and ‘Man’s Not Hot’ by Big Shaq, which were fit perfectly to the venue and the vibe. Nooriyah’s effort to include every member of the crowd goes beyond just her sampling, as exemplified when she made sure to give out scarves to some fans which they raised alongside the overwhelming number of Keffiyeh’s (traditional scarf worn mostly in the Middle East) which were already waving in the air.
There is such beauty in the way that Nooriyah is able to share and celebrate Middle Eastern and North African culture and music with not only those who are from such communities, but to people from varying backgrounds, which she is able to do through the way that she mixes her tracks, making Arabic samples approachable even to those who don’t understand the lyrics. In this way, her DJ transcends generations and backgrounds, as she connects past heritages and present audiences regardless of their personal relationship to the music. Nooriyah’s sampling of popular mainstream Middle Eastern songs, such as Khaled’s ‘C’est La Vie’ (a well-known French-Algerian hit), invited fans who were perhaps less familiar with more classic Arabic pop songs to still feel included because they were able to recognise and enjoy the familiarity of the song.
Nooriyah’s celebration of SWANA sounds has given people from these communities a space to be able to celebrate their culture, as well as a space to be able to share it with others - which is just as powerful. Nooriyah will continue to play a vital role in community-building amongst the SWANA community, and I feel so fortunate to have witnessed her magic in person. Be sure to support Noorriyah’s odes to SWANA heritage and vote for her as Best DJ of the year!
Edited by Akane Hayashi and Lucy Blackmur, Music Editors