World Music Wednesday: Arooj Aftab
World Music Wednesday is a weekly segment on The North 103.3 FM. Every Wednesday at 4pm on Northland Afternoon, we will feature a brand-new release or a significantly important past work from our vast library of music from around the world.
Support for World Music Wednesday comes from Simply Ballroom in Duluth's Craft District.
Today's feature of World Music Wednesday is focused on Pakistani artist Arooj Aftab. She was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there until she was 11 years old. Her family (including her mother, father, and two brothers) moved back to her parent's hometown of Lahore, Pakistan. Growing up Aftab was surrounded by music, in an interview with Virinda Jagota for Pitchfork, Aftab described her close relatives and their friends as "fiendy music lovers", intentionally listening to music, playing, and partaking in music discourse. As a teenager she taught herself how to play the guitar with the desire to create music.
When Aftab was 18 years old, she recorded her own version of Hallelujah, this song went viral before the time of social media via emails and song-sharing websites (e.g. Napster and Limewire), and was the first song to go viral in Lahore. Gaining confidence in music, Aftab went on to study music production and engineering at Berklee.
Aftab released her indie debut album Bird Underwater in 2015, which combined jazz and Qawwali (a musical devotion of Sufi Muslim poetry). Following that album, Aftab released Siren Islands in 2018 after signing with New Amsterdam Records.
Arooj Aftab decided her her next album that she wanted to break from the labels of her music and transcend boundaries. Her goal was to make an album that was high energy, edgy, and danceable. This is where the original start for her album Vulture Prince formed. Being composed of a collection of songs that she has worked on, some dating back to 2012. However, in 2018, Aftab experienced the loss of her brother and a close friend, these experiences changed the sound of her album to be revolving around the idea grief and longing. Aftab shared that Vulture Prince had its own history before and after the trauma that she experienced. In the same article from Pitchfork it says, "it is not defined by grief but rather, the moments when 'you accept your losses as part of your life, instead of pointing at them.'" To ensure that the sound of this album was completely hers, Aftab did not listen to music for two years while writing this album. Vulture Prince was released in April of 2021.
The Vulture Prince album received high praises; raking 5th in the Rolling Stone's "Best Music of 2021", the song Mohabbat was called one of the best songs of 2021 by TIME and New York Times, as well as being added to Barak Obama's Summer Playlist Favorites of 2021. In 2022, Aftab was nominated in the Grammys for "Best New Artist" and "Best Global Music Performance", winning a Grammy in "Best Global Music Performance" for her song Mohabbat. Aftab became the first ever Pakistani artist to win a Grammy and the first Pakistani artist to perform at the Grammys. In 2023 she once again was nominated for "Best Global Music Performance".
Aftab has released an album titled Love In Exile with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily, in March of 2023, and is currently working on her 4th album.