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Credit: Salam Zaied

Recognise: Nooriyah

Nooriyah is a DJ and musical archivist who’s changing the narrative around music from the South-West Asian and North African (SWANA) region, highlighting its global influence and embedding it in her genre-jumping club sets, radio shows and socials. Alongside her party-starting Recognise mix, she speaks to Ria Hylton about her journey so far, keeping it high-energy, and encouraging others to pursue their passion

“I know I’ve hit a gem when my face muscles screw like I’ve smelt something bad, you know?” Nooriyah tells DJ Mag. “If my face does that to a song, I know it’s going to slap on the dancefloor.” 

The Middle of Nowhere founder may be the only DJ to have opened a Boiler Room set with their father, who serenaded the crowd on the oud before she dropped Palestinian solidarity anthem ‘Dammi Falastini’. It was a powerful opening to the penultimate set from the Middle of Nowhere line-up, the UK’s first SWANA Boiler Room, and a great primer for those new to Nooriyah. “My whole ethos as a DJ is, I’m gonna make you move,” she says. “No matter what — I’m gonna play high-energy, infectious music that’s gonna make you move.”

Nooriyah is the London-based DJ pushing new narratives around SWANA music, bringing it into spaces you wouldn’t normally expect, and giving it a seat at the global table. But it can be a double-edged sword, championing a sound often considered niche, she explains. “Both the media and people around me love to focus on the SWANA sounds because I’m championing it, but if you come to any of my shows you’ll find that it is part of the tapestry of any set I do.” 

Anyone looking to narrow the lens on the DJ need only listen to her Boiler Room performance, which included remixes of The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Galvanize’ and Reel 2 Real’s ‘I Like to Move It’, a Super Mario theme edit, a Latin-funk take on ShazaLaKazoo’s ‘As Muhler’, and a few choice self-edits of underground classics, like Lil Silva’s ‘Seasons’. The set was packed with energetic, earworm tracks and has amassed more than 1 million views to date. Which begs the question, has life changed much since? “Yes and no. I feel like the vision was the same before and after Boiler Room,” she replies, acknowledging the surge of support she’s now found. 

It was that other viral moment in 2021, when she cut snippets of Timbaland productions alongside the original song samples that marked the first real change. The clip included Jay Z’s ‘Big Pimpin’’ and Aaliyah’s ‘More Than A Woman’ and ‘Don’t Know What To Tell Ya’, records all inspired by tracks of Arabic origin. “I feel like that was the initial push where I felt a difference,” she continues. “And it wasn’t a difference in terms of what was happening around me, it was a difference within me. I felt like there were people who cared, so I could do more things, take more risks.” 

The internet ran with the 30-second post, which was picked up by celebrity news platform The Shade Room, scoring close to 2 million views and rehashing debates around hip-hop’s sampling history. Timbaland even contributed a comment, in emoji form. 

This wasn’t, however, a new development for the DJ, who had been sharing sampling history on her radio show for some time. The main difference was the visual presentation, old clips contrasting with the new, and at a time when the pandemic was still eating into the everyday. “The video I created around the samples was just an extension of a radio show I had at the time,” she tells DJ Mag. “I had been in community radio for such a long time and I wanted to have a visual way to represent that little sample segment. And during the pandemic people were looking to connect — it was a really peculiar time.” 

Photo from Nooriyah's Boiler Room set. She's smiling behind the decks wearing a red top. Her father is sat beside her playing the oud. He is wearing a Keffiyeh headdress

Nooriyah started out as a radio DJ on Reprezent in 2017, soon migrating to a weekend slot on Westside Radio, then Balamii, with stints at Radar and In 2021 she arrived at +1 RADIO. In the early years, she’d sprinkle SWANA tracks throughout her sets, but was always careful not to alienate dancefloors by deviating too far from cuts that were easy on the ear. In that initial viral moment, however, she realised the wide-spread appetite for sounds beyond the Western scale and grew bolder in her selections. 

She also began approaching her social media posts like individual performance art pieces, pairing walls of video footage with kinetic audio, dropping bars of knowledge along the way. Past posts include a history on Bollywood samples, the Mesopotamian roots of the oud, and a clip on the maamoul, a date-filled cookie dating back to Ancient Egypt. This archival work in social media form comes as second nature to the artist, a way to log her cultural everyday. “I’m inspired by the things around me because, for example, my mum literally bakes thousands of these [maamoul] cookies, and I was like: I need to document this, not even for anyone, but for myself.”

Last year, Nooriyah produced a BBC Radio 4 documentary — presented by Nabihah Iqbal — looking at musical traditions, from Indian classical to Arabic scales. One of the biggest takeaways was how technology is threatening music biodiversity, unwittingly limiting the tonal possibilities in preset production software. These kinds of discoveries have added an urgency to her work. “These DAWS and production software still prefer certain sets of scales, and because they are accessible, producers are not creating music in the kind of traditions that they have around them a lot of the time.”

What was even more striking was a conversation she had with academics whose research showed how musical notes from around the world are slowly migrating toward Western scales. “I think there’s a little shame in that, the whole world trying to fit this specific sound — but there’s some excitement that comes within that too, the overlap between different traditions and sounds. That part does excite me, but sometimes it’s good to reflect on the bigger picture and how technology is aiding this erasure of tradition.” 

When not behind the decks, Nooriyah works full-time in public health, in a role she loves but may well have to give up as music begins to take up more of her schedule. Middle of Nowhere will head to Glastonbury this year, and Nooriyah will follow that with a tour of Europe and then the SWANA region towards winter. But this is a DJ also rooting for her peers, individuals promoting sounds from areas that belong on the dance music map: amapiano DJ and producer Charisse C and Trinidadian nightclub Ariapita Social Club, to name a couple. 

As we end our conversation, Nooriyah is also keen to note how easy success can appear from the outside, and how important it is to feel the fear and do it anyway. “A lot of times people see the wins, but I really want to say that it takes a lot of bravery. And I don’t want people who doubt themselves to feel like the feelings that they have of doubt or fear around doing something new, or that it might not do well, I don’t want those feelings to stop them or [for them] to think that they’re alone in it. Whatever level you’re at, there’s always that fear — you have to be a little bit brave.”


Narcy ‘Bullet’ [Unreleased]
Sidhu Moosewala ‘0 To 100 [Amnelusive Remix]’ 
Green Lantern ‘Bhangra Bounce’
Rema ‘Soundgasm (Tuks Remix)’
50 Cent ‘In Da Club (Mr. M!X Remix)’
Cheb Khaled ‘Didi (Steve Salameh Remix)’
ROSALÍA, J Balvin ‘Con Altura (Rafa Vio & DjKilo Moombah Remix)’
Gah Gah ‘Daâwa’
Narcy ‘EXCUSSE ME’ [Unreleased]
DJ Snake ‘Disco Maghreb (D-Rashid RMX)’
Spice ‘So Mi Like It !BALKAN REMIX! (prod. by SkennyBeatz)’
Heba Masoud ‘Tansh Tanash’
Ghetto Flow ‘Partelo (Jesús Fernández X Jm Castillo Remix)’
Braulio Fogon, El Cherry Scom ‘Chiviriki’
Tokischa x ROSALÍA ‘Linda (Los XL Remix)’
Ding Dong ‘Badman Forward (Booty Carell X Crux Pistols Edit)’
Megan Thee Stallion ‘Thot (Guari Baile Funk Remix)’ 
Hisham Abbas x Lil Silva ‘Fenoh (Nooriyah x usfoxx edit)’
Missy Elliot ‘GET U FREAK ON (Naken Edit)’
Ghana boyz ‘REMIX (Manlikestunna x DJ Flex)’ 
El Sawareekh ‘Ekhwaty (Abdoniger Edit)’
Omar souleyman x Daddy Yankee ‘Gasolina (Nooriyah x usfoxx edit)’ [Unreleased]
Skepta ‘Ammanaimeh (Nooriyah x usfoxx edit)’ [Unreleased]
Vengaboys ‘We Like To Party! (Badger Fix-Up)’ 
Hamdi ‘Havana’
Soulely ‘Just Wanna Rock (bubbling edit)’
AÆE ‘Saxon Posse’ 
Toumba ‘Tidallal’
Gah Gah ‘Kasbah’
Jill Scott ‘He Loves Me( Boston Chery X The Letter C Edit)’

Want more? Check out fellow Middle Of Nowhere Boiler Room DJ Moving Still's Fresh Kicks mix and interview here

Ria Hylton is DJ Mag's album reviews editor. Follow them on Twitter @ria_hylton