18 Mar, 2022

Pakistani-American singer Arooj Aftab may be the first Pakistani woman to be nominated for a Grammy and the first Pakistani to be nominated in the Best New Artist and Best Global Performance category, but she doesn't want these accolades to define her.

The 'Mohabbat' singer told radio station WYPR in a recent interview, "To be nominated as a Best New Artist, for me, feels like all this work I've done, not to be otherised and not always be thought of as 'new age' or 'world music' or 'international folk.'" For Aftab, the lack of qualifiers in the Best New Artist category is a "monumental triumph" itself.

While her work is being appreciated and she's "elated" about her music being recognised by the highest award ceremony in the music industry, Aftab told the radio station that she is also cynical about the world appreciating her as it often recognises musicians based on their accolades.

Upon being asked about the 'new' aspect of the category she is nominated for, Aftab said, "It's not unusual in the music world to be introduced as a new artist when you've been at it for ages. Look at Julius Eastman, Jeff Buckley and Eva Cassidy, like look at these people who became so well-known after they had to go and die. This is not that. I'm still alive and I'm just glad that it's happening while I'm still in my thirties." She described it as a "pleasant and dramatic surprise" that she is grateful for and is hopeful for what's next for her.

For her, the journey and transition to Sufi music started when, years ago, she performed at a music festival in Pakistan where she deliberately waited for and met Sufi legend Abida Parveen and had sung 'Man Kunto Maula' with her. "I shouldn't have done that because I was so young and it's probably really bad," Aftab said about singing with Parveen, however, she perfected it in her first album 'Bird Under Water'.

From her first studio album to the latest, 12 years after meeting Parveen, Aftab is still into Sufi music because of the 13th century poetry by Rumi she read in college. "It was sitting on the page for a bunch of years and then at some point there was a jam with a friend of mine and he was just playing some Reggae and I just started singing. It flew off the pages, into a melody and into my voice," said Aftab.

As for her connection with Pakistani music, the singer believes that Pakistanis, on a cultural level, are never without music or poetry, never without some form of art and dance. "It's part of the tapestry, it's just everywhere," she said. The singer was recently seen in Coke Studio's season 14 with Asfar Hussain to perform the song 'Mehram'. Aftab is also the [first Pakistani artist][5] to perform at American musical festival Coachella this year alongside artists such as Harry Styles, Lil baby, Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion, Disclosure, 21 Savage, Stromae and many other artists.

She was also featured in former US president, Barack Obama's playlist of music he enjoyed listening to during the summer of 2021. Aftab's song 'Mohabbat' was mentioned alongside songs from artists such as Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones and Rihanna.