Some of the most striking and original music to emerge from the UK recently is coming from young British-Pakistani female singer/ songwriters. Natasha Khan and Rumer are very successful examples of that, and now Nadine Shah looks set to embellish the BritPak scene with her hauntingly elegiac mood music that mines darker regions of the human condition, producing songs dealing with lust, regret and retribution, but sung in a gloriously melancholic style that gives gloom a good name.
Shah was raised in a tiny coastal village in north-east England and was inspired by the mythical maritime qualities of the environment she grew up in, as well as the Islamic Sufi songs and Urdu ghazals her dad exposed her to as a kid. Shah’s mother is the daughter of a Norwegian sea captain who ran away with Shah’s exotic father after he captured her heart, further accentuating the singer’s cosmically romantic origins. With a backstory so beguiling, it’s no wonder that Shah’s music has such otherworldly characteristics which are difficult to properly assess and explain.
Dreary Town is Shah’s latest song and first proper music video. Up until now she has remained primarily a voice on the radio, emanating androgynous vocal delivery and challenging lyrical content. Therefore, it comes as a bit of a surprise to finally put a face to the voice and discover that Shah is actually a bonnie lass. She sings in a beautifully parochial voice, incorporating dialectical nouns like ‘nowt’ (nothing) and ‘muny’ (pound sterling) in her lyrics, thus establishing an identity that is gloriously distinct.
The video for Dreary Town is obviously going for a British kitchen sink realist tone, though it’s debatable how wise a choice that is. Coming across like a Mike Leigh movie meets an episode of BBC’s self-obsessed ‘90s drama serial This Life, Shah’s video seems at once over studied and unintentionally insincere, which is a shame because such an honest song doesn’t need amateur dramatics to sell itself.