While Pakistan was still reeling from do-we-have-a-government-or-not, there was some excellent news brewing on the side of the planet - in Las Vegas, Nevada at the MGM Grand Arena, this year's venue for the Grammys.
Arooj Aftab, nominated for two awards - Global Music Performance and Best New Artist - walked away with a Grammy for Global Music Performance for her song 'Mohabbat.' Arooj lost out on the Best New Artist to Olivia Rodrigo.
The song is based on an Urdu ghazal by Hafiz Hoshiyarpuri. The poetry has previously been performed by the Mehdi Hassan, Farida Khanum and more recently by Ali Sethi. Aftab's award winning song contains a few couplets from the ghazal.
The song first came to prominence after former US President Barack Obama's shared it as part of his Summer Playlist.
Who Is Arooj Aftab?
Aftab was born to Pakistani parents expatriated in Saudi Arabia. When she was about 10 years old, they returned to their native Lahore, Pakistan. She learned to play the guitar in autodidact and gradually acquired her singing style while listening to Billie Holiday, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Mariah Carey, Begum Akhtar. At that time, Aftab lived in a country where access to Western online platforms was difficult, and the infrastructure for independent music was lacking. In this context, however, she would promote her music in Pakistan, being one of the first musicians to use the Internet in the early 2000s; her renditions of "Mera Pyaar" and "Hallelujah" went viral and launched the Pakistani indie scene.
Aftab moved to the United States at the age of 19 in 2005 and earned a degree in music production and engineering and jazz composition at Boston's Berklee College of Music. She moved to New York in 2010 and began working as an editor and scoring films. Since her graduation, Aftab has lived there, being part of the city's jazz and "new music" scene.
In April 2011, Aftab was included in the "100 Composers Under 40" selection launched by NPR and WQXR-FM's Q2 (a contemporary classical music internet radio station). Aftab's first album, Bird Under Water, was released independently in 2014. It received critical acclaim from David Honigmann of the Financial Times, who gave the album four out of five stars in March 2015. She worked as an editor on the documentary Armed With Faith (2017), winning a 2018 Emmy Award afterward.
Her second album, Siren Islands, was released on June 12, 2018, through New Amsterdam Records. NPR included the album in their "Favorite Electronic and Dance Music of 2018" list. The New York Times listed the song "Island No. 2", which represented the album, in their "25 Best Classical Music Tracks of 2018" list. In mid-July 2018, the song "Lullaby", taken from Bird Under Water, was ranked number 150 on the NPR's "200 Greatest Songs By 21st Century Women" list.
In 2020, Aftab sang, among other vocalists, on Residente's Latin Grammy Award-winning single "Antes Que El Mundo Se Acabe".That year, she composed the music for the Student Academy Award-winning film Bittu (narrative category) by Karishma Dube.
An anticipated release, Aftab's third studio album, Vulture Prince, was released on April 23, 2021, via New Amsterdam Records."Mohabbat" was called one of the best songs of 2021 by Time and The New York Times. Vulture Prince was named the best album of 2021 by Netherlands newspaper de Volkskrant, topping their year-end list. Brenna Ehrlich ranked the album sixth on Rolling Stone's "Best Music of 2021" staff list. It was ranked number twenty by The Guardian on their list of the "50 best albums of 2021", and Laura Snapes named Aftab "[t]he year's biggest musical revelation". While Vulture Prince did not rank on the Los Angeles Times' top ten "Best Albums of 2021", it was, however, included on their "15 deserving albums" list. In late 2021, Aftab signed with Verve Records.