Author Archives: Tooba Haq

Sheikhspeare Sid: targeting islamophobia and media bias one poem at a time

Sheikhspeare Sid, aka Sid Kenpachi Valapp, is a business student that has fallen in love with the power of spoken word. Focusing mostly on taboo context, this young 20-year-old is the furthest thing from a cliché.

With his faith by his side, and a talent to kill for, is this anything this modern-day Shakespeare (or shall I say Sheikhspeare) can’t do? I sat down with the poet to get an insight into how he started, and the toughest parts of writing poetry.

Q. Tell me something about yourself

Sid: I was born in India and moved to the UK when I was 5. It was a passion I had from creative writing in school, it’s never something I really thought of doing.

Q. What made you want to advocate change through poetry?

Sid: The kind of views that are portrayed with the media, but I think the tipping point would probably have to be the Trump presidency.

Q. I saw that in one of your videos, ‘Terrorist’ where you mentioned Trump in a verse

Sid: That made me do what I want to do, I didn’t think it would be something that was very impactful but a lot of people liked it so

Q. How was your first time performing on stage? 

Sid: That was the terrorist video, I was extremely frightened to be fair.

Q. You didn’t look as frightened in the video, putting on a brave face or..?

Sid: You know what,  I spent several hours practicing in front of my wall everyday. By the time I got on stage and I was barely two lines in and, that was it. All i could imagine was the wall in front of me. I never made eye-contact with anyone either, everyone thought I did but I was just looking over their heads. So it really worked.

Q. How did you get into spoken word so much?

Sid: I really like spoken word and I think it’s a modern way to advocate change, because it gets people interested. When people think of poetry, they think its boring and the old form of it, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s an umbrella term, poetry is like in rap for example. It’s a form of art.

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Photo credits: Sid Kenpachi

Q. What do you wish to change? 

Sid: Thats a broad question (laughs). I would say probably to provoke thought. Thats what I want to do. If you see the stuff that I’m known for doing it’s not really directed towards muslims. Its directed for your average [xenophobic], and to make them think. So I take a very emotive stance and having a bit of logic does shake some people. You just got to hit the right audience.

Q. You mentioned hitting the right audience, aren’t you afraid you might strike a chord with someone or make them uncomfortable?

Sid: I don’t think I’m afraid of that, if someone feels uncomfortable then that’s good. If it can annoy somebody, that means I must be doing something right. The only people my poetry can annoy are hostile, ignorant people who don’t want to change. If my words are affecting them, that must mean they are true.

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Photo credits: Sid Kenpachi

Q. Doesn’t that frighten you, that someone may do something to keep you quiet? 

I feel like I’m in a safe place to project my voice, and if something does happen to me, I guess it just furthers my cause, doesn’t it?

Q. Fair enough! Could you describe your poetry style in 3 words? 

Sid: I’m trying to do this without sounding too cocky (laughs). Logical, Emotive and Strategic.

Q. How do you usually prep for a performance? 

Sid: I usually practice in front one of my friends, he’s as unbiased as you can get because he’s not Muslim and we come from different communities, so if it impacts him, I know it’ll work out on stage.

Q. How important is your faith in terms of creative processes? 

Sid: Whenever I write something, I think it has to be as religiously appropriate. So purposefully  I don’t use any profanity, and I don’t try to be offensive. I just want to speak the truth, and if I use religion then it helps me and empowers me throughout the poem.

Q. When did you really get into poetry? 

Sid: It was quite recent actually, I wrote Terrorist in November. i used to write it before just by hand, and then when i saw the rise of spoken word I wondered if i could write a spoken word piece. Its more sophisticated than writing it I think because it’s a performance. You have to adopt a persona on stage, because if you’re into what you’re saying then that’ll impact people more. That is the main reason I don’t use paper or read out of my phone, because it resonates with me and my audience

Q. With the situations all around the world, how are you feeling as a Muslim spoken word poet amidst all this hate?

Sid: People don’t like talking about taboos, especially on stage. If anything, I think it’s an opportunity. A lot of people come up to me and say, ‘oh you’re so good.’ Its not me per se, it’s my content. The things I write are kind of the things people want to hear. I can use it and try to change their image of us.

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Photo credits: Sid Kenpachi

Q. What is the most difficult part in writing poetry? 

Sid: I feel like my objective is to impact the people watching, so everything I say is in there for a reason, but sometimes it doesn’t support the flow so I’ll have to manipulate it or change the order around a bit.

Q. You’re performing with Bunkers without Borders next week, how are you feeling? 

Sid: Its one of my biggest performances to date, way bigger than I’m used to doing. I actually got it through someone I met at Word Up! He enjoyed my pieces so much, he wanted them to be performed at Bunker.

Q. How did you get into Word Up? 

Sid: It’s actually a free space, and anyone can get up and perform and there’s no registration fee. You put your name into a hat, and if it’s called out you get to perform. It’s a space where new poets show up, so just hearing that put me into ease. There was nothing to lose so I just went for it.

Q. How are you feeling about university and spoken word?

Sid: I’m doing business management and accounting, and in the beginning I really loved it but over time, I realise I like spoken word more because of the change it can create. Yeah, I could make money in accounting, but I can help people in my community and Insh’Allah, I will one day.

After our interview, I asked Sid to freestyle some bars for me. He did not disappoint. You can check his video, “Prayer for the Opressed” and the freestyle below.

You can follow Sid and his journey at @SheikhspeareSid on Twitter.

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Bringing back the indie: A conversation with Fickle Friends

Fickle Friends are an English Indie pop band who have been topping charts and headlining venues all over the UK. Their first hit single ‘Swim’ came out two years ago, and since then they have been seen at festivals such as Reading and Leeds, slowly making a name for themselves.

They sat down with me before their first sold out headline show at the Heaven nightclub in London, to talk about their sound, their struggles as musicians and Pokemon. 


Image: Omar Balde

Q. Did you ever think you would become this successful? 

Sam/ Drums (S): It’s hard to think that we could be this successful, especially with the amount of people we could have worked with being at university together.

Natasjia/ Vocals (N): I never thought we would be this successful. We moved to Brighton and I only knew Sam and about 2 others. I reached out to him saying I need drums for a show, and well here we are.


Image: Tooba Haq

Q. The name Fickle Friends is very different. Where did it come from? 

(N): We used to joke about starting a DJ duo, and we were spit-balling names for it and we came up with The Fickle Friends, because we’re bad at sticking to plans and then i just kind of stole it for the band name

(S): The person we stole it off knows, don’t worry. He was the engineer for the album that we uploaded.

Q. How does it feel to be working with Mike Crossey? He’s managed bands for the 1975 and Wolf Alice which are both huge.

(S): It’s actually kind of funny, because when we weren’t signed and doing everything ourselves we’d always joke to work with him. He [produced] the 1975 record and we loved it so much so when we got to know we were going to work with him, I was ecstatic.

(N): Everyone’s dreams came true when we went to LA!

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Image: Tooba Haq

Q. Speaking about LA, how was living the LA experience? 

(N): It was really exciting because we were there for a month, living on East Hollywood and the Valley just writing music, living the tourist life. We climbed the Hollywood sign and went to Six Flags – the big theme park.

Q. Any favourite rides or recommendations? 

(S): I think the first one we did, the X-2! Out of the four of us here, I’ve never heard so much fear collectively.

(N): By far one of the scariest rides I’ve ever been on. You genuinely think, ‘this is it, I’m going to die, this is the end.’

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Q. You’ve been to a lot of festivals in the past year, about 53? What has to be your favourite? 

(N): I think Reading and Leeds this year would have to be the best one. We’ve had a lot of festivals under our belt, but this year I think we had bigger crowds and people knew our songs and they came to see us.

(S): It was Reading definitely, that was probably the highlight of our festival season.

Q. What would you say is the festival that you really want to play in the future?

(N and S): Glastonbury for sure.

(N): I would also love to do something like burning man which would be insane. I just want to do all the big European festivals. Maybe some in Australia. I honestly just want to travel.


Image: Tooba Haq

Q. This year must have been quite the relief for you after finally getting a contract, how has that been? 

(N): It means that we won’t have to work part-time jobs in the day to support our music at night. It’s not like oh I’m broke, can’t write a song this week because I need to work 7 days to pay rent.

(S): But I mean, we wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t done that so

Q. That must have been hard, did you guys ever think of giving up?

(S): We were close –

(N): I don’t think we ever said we were going to give up, but I think it did get to a point where we were like how long can we keep doing this for until we have to take a step back and give it a breather

(S): We were very close, and it feels good that we stuck it out

(N): It forced us to kind of re-evaluate where we are as a band, and then we made some changes around because something felt off, but we got it.

Q. How does it feel being in London’s Heaven for your first headline show?

(S): It’s quite a big deal for us. The last big headline we did was at Dingwalls last year, with no contract and half the crowd coming tonight.

(N): I still can’t believe it.

(S): Its kind of fueled a fire in us, I just want to do more headline shows and travel.


Image: Tooba Haq

Q. Any sort of fun pre-show rituals?

(S): Pacing. Theres a lot of pacing, and we don’t really talk to each other much.

(N): Theres like this brief bit of terror we all feel before getting on, but once we get on stage it’s all forgotten

Q. Who would you love to open for in the coming years?

(N): I’m going to go out there and say something like Drake. Or maybe Childish Gambino.

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Image: Tooba Haq

Q. One of your first hits, Swim came out in 2014. That is not that long ago, how do you think you’ve grown and changed as a band?

(S): It was quite mad when Swim came out wasn’t it?

(N): Yeah it was, i think we’ve kinda figured out how to write better lyrics and understanding our sound more. We’ve just improved so much, and with being together for so long we kind of understand each other more and what works basically.

(S) Its kind of always been that, just moved into a better version.

Video rights: Fickle Friends Vevo/ YouTube.

Q. Like a Pokemon? 

(N): Yes exactly. Like a Pokemon!

(S): We were a Squirtle and now we’re a Blastoise.

Q. If you could be any Pokemon which one would you be?

(S): From the original, Blastoise was always the one for me.

(N): Such a shame Pokemon Go is over, I was so into it

Q: When can we expect a new album to come out? And what are you guys doing in it? 

(N): The summer of 2017

(S): We’re actually playing 3 songs from the new album later tonight, so watch out for that

(N): You can expect some dark pop, because right now we’re very upbeat and pop-y. Theres a couple of ballads and its a little slower.

(S): A broader spectrum of Fickle Friends is a good analogy.

Q. Any names for the album yet or? 

(N): Oooh there are some ideas, but we’re very bad at making decisions.

(S): So yeah, no actual name yet.

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A snippet of the show in Heaven, London.

Video credits: Tooba Haq

Q. And finally, can you describe your band in three words for us?

(N): chill, sex, and violence.

(S): Not chill for sure.

(N): Can we say indie on fleek, because someone said that to us during our show last night.

(S): So yes, Indie on fleek.

Fickle Friends have released the song Hello Hello, on the 8th of March which you can check out below, along with their soundcloud link!

Cambridge Analytica – Trumps secret to winning the presidency


Before the 9th of November, there were rumours circulating that America would have their first ever female president. All the statistics were in favour of Hillary Clinton, as were most of the supporters on social media. So, what happened?


Election charts via Real clear politics

Cambridge Analytica, based in the UK, are a company who specialise in analysing data. The company is backed by Robert Mercer, whose daughter was part of the Trump transition team. Donald Trumps win was one of the biggest advertisements for companies in digital advertising. Companies like Cambridge Analytica, use ‘psychographs’ to understand big data and the uses of it through social media.

In simpler terms, it made undecided voters steer towards the candidates they want them too. President Donald Trump hired the company at the middle of his term as president as they used big data to understand their audiences, and used that to focus on areas that show little to no interest in the elections.

To understand how they used psychographics, we must first understand what they do. Psychographics, or also known as Psychometrics, is a tool used to understand skills, achievements, abilities, activities, personality traits and educational achievement.

Cambridge Analytica, divided the US population into 32 personality types, and focused on just 17 states. It was established that men who like MAC cosmetics are slightly more likely to be gay, the company discovered that a preference for cars made in the US was a great indication of a potential Trump voter. Among other things, these findings now showed Trump which messages worked best and where.

Although people on social media hate Donald Trump, they love him simultaneously. Every time there is a mention of Trump, ratings go up, more people tune in and thus more ads are sold.

CEO of the company, Alexander Nix took Facebook analysing to a new level when the presidential debates were taking place:

“On the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump’s team tested 175,000 different ad variations for his arguments, in order to find the right versions above all via Facebook. The messages differed for the most part only in microscopic details, in order to target the recipients in the optimal psychological way: different headings, colors, captions, with a photo or video.”

The decision to focus on Michigan and Wisconsin in the final weeks of the campaign was made on the basis of data analysis, Nix says to reporters. This may have been one of the main factors of how President Trump took the lead. screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-3-18-15-pm

Infographic: Tooba Haq

With this information, It is easy to see how Facebook can interpret information to make it centered to speicific audiences. It is now getting simpler to use information we give Facebook for ‘free’. The information has a massive impact on things we don’t even realise.

During the controversy, Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Misleading people or misusing their information is a direct violation of our policies and we will take swift action against companies that do, including banning those companies from Facebook and requiring them to destroy all improperly collected data.”


Detour for Donald’s immigration ban

Donald Trump’s immigration ban has been rejected by a court appeal. The major setback happened on Thursday when a panel of three judges upheld an injunction against Donald Trump.

The White House and two US states legally challenging the ban – Washington and Minnesota – have until Monday to present further evidence backing up their respective arguments.

Then the court could schedule a hearing or rule on whether the ban should remain suspended.

Trump took to twitter to show his anger.

Trump had imposed a 90 day ban from seven muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia on the 27th of January. This caused havoc and confusion at airports around the country as green-card holders tried to get into the United States.

The court rejected much of his argument in its ruling. The panel wrote “although courts owe considerable deference to the president’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action”.

There are roughly 20 lawsuits against the immigration ban currently. Donald Trump however, took to twitter when the decision was made saying he would,”See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!”

Social media was in a fury when the ban went through. Millions of people were sharing stories of green card holders that were being banned from entering a country they have lived in for years.

The ban is said to have an effect on American companies, such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. They said that the ban would affect the sales and the american business, as well as growth and innovation. They also argued that “200 out of the forbes 500 were founded by immigrants.”

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