Celebrating three years of its growing community and club night, Habibti Nation threw a SWANA summer party in Hackney Wick last weekend and Shiler Mahm was on hand to tell us what went down.

I’ve been going out for longer than I’d like to admit, thanks to the old fake ID. My adolescence was spent listening to DnB, disco, house, and techno because that’s what everyone else was doing. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun, but the older I got the more I wondered – are these spaces for me?


By the time I’d graduated, I was looking for something new. Slowly but surely, my prayers are being answered. I owe this to the initiative of a number of SWANA and South-East Asian collectives and DJs: Bledi Party, Disco Tehran, Nooriyah, Daytimers, Mehmooni, and Nabihah Iqbal to name a few.


Another that’s been on my radar is Habibti Nation, a party that platforms SWANA womxn, non-binary and trans artists. On Sunday, I finally had my chance to party with them and headed down to The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick to celebrate their third birthday.

Thanks to the British weather, I arrived wet and groggy. The forecast chose violence and yet, within seconds, I was beaming. I was greeted by an array of stalls with everything from Afghan clothing to a keffiyeh workshop. SEKSU was on the decks infusing club bangers with Arabic beats. The surreal smell of Ghormeh Sabzi– my favourite Iranian dish – cooked up by @TheIranianVegan was wafting through the air, something I’d never smelt on the dancefloor.

Mana aka @TheIranianVegan

I had the pleasure of meeting LUMA, Habibti Nation’s boss lady and resident DJ. We instantly bonded over our shared love of partying to music we grew up with and our commitment to clubbing.


“I’ve been DJing for a while, but I felt like no club nights reflected my half-Iraqi origins. I was missing connecting with my Arab identity through music,” she said. “When DJing at 18, I played mostly house and disco, but I realised I didn’t really like it. Now my music is mostly influenced by multi-cultural London dance music like UK Funky, grime and jungle with lots of sounds that have global origins and roots, and Arabic music from my childhood.”


As I danced and wandered around, I spotted Jose, who was dressed in a colourful sequined face covering paired with a fishnet green top. Every time I looked at him, he was either belly-laughing or hip-shaking.


We had a chat over the thumping music. “These events are amazing. I’m from Libya and I’m not out to my family and some friends. I’m here with my friends that know, and we can just party!”


Finding community in the diaspora outside of your family can be difficult – especially for queer people – and the club can be instrumental to finding belonging. I bumped into Yussy, who I first met at Nooriyah’s historic Boiler Room when they pulled me to dance with them behind the decks.


“I’ve made a lot of good friends clubbing, especially at Habibti Nation. When I was younger, at a time when I needed more community, I wish I had these spaces. I can’t express myself on a daily basis and events like this let me be myself and be around people who also love the music,” they explained.


Later on in the day, I met singer, actress, producer and DJ Azadi.mp3, who closed the party with a high-energy set blending breaks, UKG and percussive SWANA sounds. Our shared love for the scene comes from the familiar faces we dance with.


“Most people who see me play have come because they saw me at a different SWANA event. You chat to people, see them again and eventually you build spiderwebs of people similar to you.” After connecting some dots, we soon realised that we had both met the wonderful Jose on different nights out. “You see what I mean! Community is everything!”


Spaces like Habibti Nation are sacred to the people that need them and keeping them running is integral to the culture. The Night Time Industries Association warned earlier this year that at the current rate, all club venues will be wiped out by 2030.


This is something that all the artists I spoke to felt and for Azadi.mp3, she can physically see the number of spaces shrinking. “When I walk down the street, that shop used to be a club, that place used to be a venue, so did that place. It’s mad.”


For LUMA, with the cost-of-living spiralling, the events sometimes barely break even. She could increase ticket prices, but her priority is ensuring the event is accessible to those on low incomes.


The protection of the night-time industry is more important than ever, especially amongst the SWANA community. Far-right rhetoric is on the rise and spaces where immigrant people and culture are celebrated provide a haven for self-actualisation and expression to flourish.

Bilal, Seksu and Isa

“We need spaces away from the white gaze to celebrate, to think through whatever we’re going through as a community,” said Aisha Mirza, who played an eclectic set of dancehall, Afrobeats and songs paying tribute to their Egyptian-Pakistani heritage.


“We’re not trying to fit in, that’s the point. We’re creating these spaces because we desperately need them. We are living in London, a capitalist city that was literally the centre of colonial darkness…These are spaces of playfulness – we don’t get to play that much.”

Aisha Mirza

Their set certainly had the crowd loose. People from different ethnicities, ages, genders, and sexualities were giving everything from traditional Arabic shoulder shimmying to vogueing.


By the end of the day my feet were tired, and my heart was full. I’d swapped numbers and Instagrams with half of the party, and on my long tube ride home I realised that I had morphed into my aunties. In true Iranian fashion, it had taken me 30 minutes to finally leave because I couldn’t stop chatting. Next time maybe I’ll bring them along.