Arooj Aftab becomes the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy

Published 04 Apr, 2022 09:40am

The singer was nominated for two categories; Best Global Performance — that she won — and Best New Artist.

Photo: Arooj Aftab /Instagram
Photo: Arooj Aftab /Instagram

Brooklyn-based Pakistani vocalist Arooj Aftab on Sunday scored her first Grammy, winning a prestigious trophy for her song 'Mohabbat' in the Best Global Performance category. This makes her the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy.

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.

She's also up for the coveted Best New Artist prize, which will be presented during the main Grammy telecast later Sunday.

"I am beyond thrilled," the artist told journalists backstage at the pre-gala ceremony, at which the vast majority of awards are handed out. "It feels great."

"I've been very nervous all day. And we're off to a good start."

Born to Pakistani parents in Saudi Arabia, Aftab spent her teenage years in Lahore before relocating to Boston's prestigious Berklee School of Music to study musical production and engineering.

She released her third studio album Vulture Prince to critical acclaim, and gained even more attention after former US president Barack Obama included the track 'Mohabbat' on his 2021 summer favourites list.

Aftab has performed at a number of major New York venues including Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, also opening for Mitski at The Brooklyn Steel in 2018.

Speaking to AFP in the days leading up to the Grammys, Aftab praised her fellow artists nominated for Best New Artist, a crop that includes favorite Olivia Rodrigo along with rappers Saweetie and The Kid Laroi.

"We're all so cool — the group itself is kind of like a win," she said.

Other award winners

Multi-genre artist Jon Batiste won album of the year and R&B duo Silk Sonic took two of the top honours at the ceremony that featured a surprise appeal for support from wartime President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine.

Batiste landed the night's biggest prize for We Are, an album inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. "I believe this to my core — there is no best musician, best artist, best dancer, best actor," Batiste said. "The creative arts are subjective ... I just put my head down and I work on the craft every day."

Silk Sonic, featuring Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak, claimed the song and record of the year awards for their 1970s inspired hit 'Leave the Door Open'. "We are really trying our hardest to remain humble at this point," joked Paak as the pair accepted the second honour.

Olivia Rodrigo, the 19-year-old singer of heartbreak ballad 'drivers license', was crowned best new artist. "This is my biggest dream come true. Thank you so much!" Rodrigo said as she held her trophy.

Midway through the ceremony, host Trevor Noah introduced a video message from Zelenskiy, who contrasted the joy found through music to the devastation caused by Russia's invasion of his country more than a month ago. "What is more opposite to music? The silence of ruined cities and killed people," Zelenskiy, wearing a green t-shirt, said in a hoarse voice.

"Fill the silence with your music," he added. "Support us in any way you can. Any, but not silence."

The remarks preceded a John Legend performance that featured two Ukrainian musicians and a Ukrainian poet.

The highest honours in music were postponed from January during a spike in Covid-19 cases and moved from Los Angeles to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Thousands of spectators packed the venue, a contrast to last year's scaled-down outdoor event.

Winners were chosen by some 11,000 voting members of the Recording Academy.