top of page

Photo courtesy of  @seb.gardner 

IMG_8693.heic

22 January 2023

Spotlight: In Conversation with Haseeb Iqbal

ANTONIA CLARK

Haseeb Iqbal is a DJ, broadcaster and writer from London. I sat down with him to talk about everything from lover’s rock to spiritual jazz, and Jah Shaka to Shakespeare. Phrases in italics are direct quotes from the interview.

Haseeb and I sit by an old church in Stoke Newington, close to the studio where he spends his days writing, crate digging, and curating his radio show. He strikes me as a man who has lived many lives, all whilst retaining a deep-rooted and wide-eyed impulse for discovery and discomfort. I would imagine stagnation is not something he is familiar, or comfortable, with. Known for spinning wax at ‘Chessidency’, presenting his eponymous radio show, holding down residencies at London bars and bunkers, and his book on the London jazz scene, Haseeb seems to disrupt the old proverb about the jack of all trades.

 

Born and raised in London, his love for the city is palpable. He describes its urban rhythms as the life-force that inspires so many of his own creative impulses, and he narrates tales of his adolescence in north London. Start at the beginning, I ask him. What is your earliest memory of music? He sips his coffee before responding. The first track I remember hearing was Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley, aged 4, but the time and place escapes him. He recalls his older sisters burning him CDs at 5, 6 and 7, introducing him to everything from the British rock of The Cure to garage. I always cared about music, he explains, it was just always something I was into. It is obvious that his love for it has always run thick and deep, woven into his existence and now his livelihood. 24 is no exception to the rule, and Haseeb talks about trying his hand at clarinet this year, even if only on a sonic level. Why the clarinet? Without hesitation, he describes the profoundly spiritual, almost vocal nature of the instrument; it seems to align with the essence of the human voice.

 

What was the last record you bought?

7” vinyl ‘Denyigban/Bouyelele’ by the Togolese singer Bella Bellow.

 

Haseeb is one of the two minds behind ‘Chessidency’, the fortnightly, eight-til-late gathering of chess and heavy records in the lounge at The Standard Hotel, London. The only brainchild of lockdown not aimed at self help or weight loss, Chessidency’s one rule is BYOB (bring your own board). Frequented by chess aficionados, queen's gambit connoisseurs, amateurs, and American rappers, all those with a burning desire for parallel play are welcomed. Even Tyler, the Creator made an appearance, board in hand, albeit a day late. Having myself attended the first Chessidency of the new year, I can only confirm the blissful musical offerings, roaring fire, and fervent gaming environment.

 

Coinciding with his final session on Worldwide FM in late October, Haseeb announced the inauguration of his own independent radio show, HaseebIqbal.world, which has now been airing since November 2022. Recounting the transition from the former to the latter, he describes feeling both daunted and inspired by the prospect of starting his own show. I ask whether he views HaseebIqbal.world as more of a personal project, a platform to showcase tracks he is moved, inspired or confused by, or whether there is an educational aspect to the show, an attempt to enlighten listeners about lesser known artists and illuminate their histories and styles. Rolling a cigarette, he answers in the affirmative to both. I love learning about the music because it allows me to respect it more, he explains, I’m not only teaching others but I’m also teaching myself. What seems to mark Haseeb apart from others in his trade is the itch to understand the music he encounters. It is a relationship beyond, simply, the auditory. He recounts late nights falling into jazz holes, learning about Archie Shepp and John Coltrane, or tracing Augustus Pablo’s mentorship of Hugh Mundell in 1970s Jamaica. Haseeb notes that there is no greater moment than figuring out the connection between grime, dub, and then dubstep, and how that spills over into garage. This philosophy, a respect for the music and the story being broadcasted, rests at the heart of HaseebIqbal.world.

 

This pedagogical aspect is more apparent in the heavily researched and comprehensive specials Haseeb broadcasts or performs live, focusing on maestros like Pharaoh Sanders and Don Cherry, or events like the New Cross Fire. How do you choose who to do a special on?  Haseeb simply responds, whoever moves me, whoever I’m excited by. It’s like plotting a complex musical landscape, joining the dots until we arrive at the present. He goes on to explain that creating such episodes and articulating such stories allow us to understand the world we have inherited a little better, and, in turn, respect the cultures that have contributed to it. Through his Listening Sessions residency at Jumbi Peckham, Haseeb brings to the audience the life and music of greats, such Hugh Mundell and Lee “Scratch” Perry.

 

What is your most valuable record?

An original press of Pharaoh Sanders’ ‘Wisdom Through Music’ (1973), the LP with Love is Everywhere on it.

 

It’s as though Haseeb understands music to exist beyond simply the auditory realm; there is something inextricably personal in its effects on the listener, something spiritual in the way it commands a crowd, a club or an individual, something metaphysical in the way it tethers the past to the present. This is the guiding hand over his sets. They are rarely planned, for the instinct of what track to next play or where to take the experience only becomes apparent in the moment. It's like an improv piece, Haseeb explains. It’s totally off the impulse. This is where the vinyl element plays a crucial role. There are no screens pointed at us, no phones, no softwares filtering the music or telling us what to play next. There is something transcendental afforded by the simple system of turntable and vinyl, an intimate and authentic connection between the artist, the music, and the people. That’s where the magic is built, Haseeb says, in the collective experience.

 

The talk of transcendence and intangibility prompts me to ask, are you spiritual? Haseeb pauses. I think music has taught or presented me with an element of spirituality, he considers, before explaining how the tracks or albums that have moved him most haven’t been those made in a pragmatic way. It’s music made once people have allowed their mind to relax and their soul, their most intricate and internal accessory, to let loose. Dub or bebop is as spiritual to Haseebs as hymns are to a Christian. Music elevates you. It allows you to reach this place of meditation which is beyond what you know or encounter on a day-to-day basis.

 

Guest Mix: Three Tracks from Haseeb to You

1. A Time for Healing - The Kahil El’Zabar Quartet

2. Love and Only Love - Fred Locks and the Creation Steppers

3. Morning Glory - Oasis

P115612.jpg
91s+CxEDriL._AC_SL1500_.jpg
ab67616d0000b273277aa88c515f708081661382.jpeg
bottom of page