INTERVIEW: Nadia Javed

Today is International Day Of The Girl (11th October), a time to champion the achievements of girls on a global scale and to highlight and challenge the gender inequality that girls still face today.

Women Of The World Festival (WOW)’s research into gender disparity in music has found the following: “Recent studies show how underrepresented women are in the industry: a landmark US survey reported that from 2019 to 2020, female artists fell from 22.5% to 20.2%; female songwriters decreased from 14.4% to 12.9%; and female producers declined from 5% to just 2%. The research also took a representative sample of 600 songs between 2012 and 2020, of 23 individual women credited as producers just seven were women of colour, resulting in an overall ratio of one woman of colour to every 180 male producers.”

Determined to help change these statistics, WOW Festival created their WOW Sounds music programme to showcase and celebrate a range of girl bands from across the globe. This year, they’ve recorded performances with Nadia Javed, Breakup Haircut, Sri Lankan acoustic trio The Singing Potatoes, Roma girl band Pretty Loud and a project Naytive Mentorship led by Australian rapper and songwriter Naomi Wenitong. Each performance has been released as an exclusive short set with an introduction about the artist/band’s activism. The UK acts all filmed sets at EartH Hackney which you can watch via WOW’s IGTV and YouTube throughout today.

We caught up with the amazing Nadia Javed (known to us as a solo artist, activist and lead singer of The Tuts) about her performance for WOW Sounds, what she’s gained from speaking to the girls in their on-going mentoring programme and the importance of talking about the “double life” of a female musician…

Hello Nadia! how are you doing? What have you been up to recently?

I had the most amazing morning even though I’m absolutely exhausted. I was on the London Eye at 8:30am mentoring sixth form girls and it was the most incredible experience, it was so much fun. I was able to give them advice and share my life story with them and it was so wholesome and vulnerable. Then I had to rush back home for a meeting at 12pm with my day job, so I went from being on this high of “life is so amazing! I’ve met all of these inspiring people!” and then my Mum messaged me to say “you’ve got a parking ticket in the post” and I was like “what is this!?” I have this double life thing. We need to talk about double life thing you know, this needs to be separate piece! I had to talk about this to the girls today. I was like “look, I’m a musician, but I have a day job still because I do have to think about how am I going to pay the bills, blah blah blah.” I was honest with them about it, because sometimes from the outside it can seem like I am a full time musician when I’m not. It’s hard. I was actually talking about balance to one of the girls, because she wants to do medicine but also do music as well, so it’s really hard to get the balance right sometimes without burning out.

It’s so much to balance isn’t it? Such extreme highs with your everyday life and the lows that come with that sometimes. I hope the parking ticket isn’t too expensive…

Tell me about your performance for WOW Sounds that you recorded at EartH in Hackney…

It was really amazing. I’ve played WOW Festival before with The Tuts on International Day Of The Girl at Southbank Centre and it was absolutely incredible. The crowd was just a sea of young girls from a local school and I felt like I was in Little Mix, because they were just going wild. So when WOW approached me again tis year, they initially wanted The Tuts to play, but we’re on a really long hiatus at the moment. I didn’t want to let the opportunity slip, so I asked how they felt about me performing solo and they were really supportive, they said they would love to have me, but with a full band behind me. At the moment with my solo stuff, it’s literally me and an acoustic guitar. I’m like the brown Ed Sheeran, except that I need to invest in a loop pedal so I can do all the stuff that he does. Although, I think KT Tunstall did the pedal thing as well back in the day, so let’s not forget about Katie…

So, I got a Ishani from Breakup Haircut to play bass and I got Christabel who’s previously been in other bands like Suggested Friends and I got another friend to jump on drums. Then I thought about which songs would sound cool live, so we did ‘My Therapist Said’ which is a very upbeat pop punk track. It’s about my journey through therapy and having a problematic white therapist who didn’t know what South Asian was, and then having a South Asian therapist who told me that I “punish men,” so that did not work well. But, good news, I do have a good therapist now! Then we did a stripped back, more emotional song called ‘I Can’t Marry You’ which is about coming out of a very long term relationship where I felt pressurised to get married to this guy because I’m Muslim and he was also Muslim. He was very nice, but he just wasn’t the one.

That all sounds great, I’m looking forward to watching your set. You mentioned that you spent the morning with a group of young girls talking about being a musician. Do you think things have improved for girls and young gender non-conforming people who want to get into music since you were a girl yourself?

I don’t know how long ago that would have been for you actually as I’m not sure how old you are…

I’m 33 now. Before, I was very secretive about my age because I was like: “I should be rich and famous by now, I should be an established pop star and rock star by now.” But the truth is, I’m not. This is the reality of how long it’s taken for me to get to where I am now. I went on my first tour with The Tuts at the age of 24 with Kate Nash and then we played Glastonbury and then we went on tour with The Selector and The Specials. Then our last gig was with Bikini Kill at Brixton Academy. I’ve played Brixton Academy three times. I don’t think there is another South Asian female Muslim punk who has played that venue three times? I sometimes have to remind myself of that when I feel really shit about myself, but the point I’m trying to make is that it has taken me to get to this age, to have this “CV” that I have, because as a woman and as a woman of colour, that’s how long I feel it has taken to get here.

I think it’s different now though. I think there’s more support in a sense, because more and more people are opening up their platforms. For example, what you do at Get In Her Ears, you platform a lot of female and non-binary artists and we have the amazing Loud Women Festival too. There are more platforms out there trying to help and I think that’s a step in the right direction. We can use social media to be activists and talk about things and protest about things that we feel passionately about. I think that change is happening, not at a super fast speed, but it is happening. I think it’s important that people just become the change that they want to see. Because, let’s be honest, white cis mediocre men are still dominating everything, so we need to make sure that we don’t let that defeat us. Instead, we need to use that anger to fuel our music and our creative passion to make the change. Keep asking for help from people and networking and connecting with people and opening it up, rather than thinking that you have to solve this problem completely on your own.

I sympathise with you there. You joked earlier that you were “the brown Ed Sheeran” and some days I find myself being furious at Ed Sheeran as one mediocre man in the music industry, rather than taking a step back and connecting with our DIY music community and focusing on what I can do as part of that community and Get In Her Ears to make things better…

I mean, mediocre men – we could do a whole other interview about that as well! We’re all doing the right things. We’re using our voices and our platforms as best we can. There’s only so fast we can move before we burnout as well. You can’t do everything.

When I was speaking to the girls earlier on today at the London eye, they asked me if I ever felt anxious or nervous before I go up on stage. It is quite stressful, but there’s also a lot of imposter syndrome out there as well. We all get it, I get it all the time, but I told the girls to just remind themselves that there’s so many mediocre white cis men out there who are just doing the same thing over and over again with an acoustic guitar. So just by you existing as you are, and me existing as I am, is a political statement in itself. That is enough. You are enough.

With this WOW mentoring scheme, it’s taught me so much about myself, because I remembered that we all know more than we think we do. We’ve all been through so much in our lives, that we all have our own individual stories. We’ve all had our own struggles and painful experiences and those things have taught us so many lessons. Then it’s in moments like this, that you realise “oh, that kind of horrific experience wasn’t so bad now, because I’ve got to share it with someone and they’ve been able to relate to it and use it to their advantage now.” So it’s quite cool actually.

That’s really solid advice. Your work with WOW is clearly important to you, but I know you work with other great organisations like the Solidarity Not Silence campaign too. Are there any other charities or non-profit groups that you recommend we check out?

I dressed up as a pregnant woman to help my friend Janey who works for Level Up last month. A pregnant woman who was supposed to take part in the campaign had to pull out last minute so I stepped in to help out. It’s such an important campaign. They’re trying to stop pregnant women from being put in prison, because even if you have a short sentence, you can get put into jail for simple things like not paying council tax or a minor first offence. There are some horrific stories of girls giving birth in their cells and their babies dying – horrific things that no one should have to go through, so we are fighting for that really big change. We need around 10,000 signatures on the petition and we’re somewhere around 7,000 now. We want there to be a huge change in the law around this issue. Sharing these stories starts a conversation and that brings about the change.

The work that organisations like Level Up do to create change is incredible, I admire their efforts and your involvement too.

Before we let you go, are there any bands or artists that you recommend we check out?

I literally have the most basic taste in music. Basically, all I know is the Spice Girls, The Libertines, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Taylor Swift and McFly. I listen to my own band’s album sometimes too!

Thanks to Nadia for the chat!

Follow Nadia Javed on TwitterInstagram

Watch her performance at EartH via WOW’s IGTV and YouTube channels

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut