Pakistani-American vocalist Arooj Aftab lands a Grammy, thanks to Mohabbat


Arooj Aftab – Photo: Mengwen Cao / NPR

By Asia Samachar | United States |

Pakistani-American singer and composer Arooj Aftab landed the Best Global Performance category award at her first Grammy on Sunday (3 April). This makes the Brooklyn-based vocalist the first Pakistani to win a Grammy.

She won the prestigious trophy for her song “Mohabbat“, one of the songs in third album Vulture Prince. She was also nominated for the much coveted Best New Artist prize.

The 37-year-old — who has lived in New York for some 15 years — has been steadily gaining global attention for her work that fuses ancient Sufi traditions with inflections of folk, jazz and minimalism, reports AFP.

The first-time Grammy nominee is truly global in her life. Aftab was born to Pakistani parents in Saudi Arabia. The family returned to Lahore, the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab, when she was 10 years-old. It is here that she spent her teens. The next move was to the U.S. to study music production and engineering at Berklee School of Music. She has lived in New York for the past 15 years.

Aftab’s heritage and penchant for mysticism come through in her music, which is rooted in the ancient Sufi tradition made famous by poets like Rumi, reports NPR in the run-up to the grammy award. Sufi music is traditionally thought of as devotional and repetitive, allowing humans to connect with a higher power. Aftab’s definition is looser. “To me, what characterizes Sufi music is minimalism and cyclical motifs in the songs, in the writing of the song structure,” she told NPR. “Anything that evokes a sense of peace, even if it’s very fast paced.”

For Aftab, it isn’t just the sound of the music that qualifies it as Sufi, it’s what it does to you and where it takes you. She has spent more than a decade digesting some of the ancient poetry that is featured in her music, the same report added.

“It takes that long, really, to sit with poetry that is that old and understand it and absorb it like proper osmosis, and really feel it in your own body,” she says. “Pakistanis, on a cultural level, are never without music, never without poetry, never without some form of art or dance,” she says.


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