Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab is credited with pioneering a new musical genre

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Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab dedicated her latest album to spaces that no longer exist. Blending traditional Muslim Sufi and Hidustani sounds with folk, jazz and minimalism, many critics credit the artist with pioneering a new genre, a fusion of two worlds.

“For me, Lahore has been this place that’s kind of encapsulated in time,” she said in an interview with YouTube series Momina’s Mixed Plate. “I left when I was 19 or 20, and haven’t really come back since.”

After a career that spans continents and languages, Aftab, now 37, has become the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy. She won the world’s best performance award on Sunday for her song “Mohabbat”, which is part of her album “Vulture Prince”, recorded entirely in Urdu.

In her acceptance speech, she described “Mohabbat” as a record that “broke me down and put me back together.”

“Mohabbat,” meaning love or affection in Hindi and Urdu, is a nearly eight-minute tune that uses folk guitar sounds, South Asian flutes, and longing lyrics that make up ghazal, a form of poetry. traditional Arabic. Whether it’s a house demolished in her home or a relationship cut short, she says lost experiences have been a strong inspiration for her work.

The lyrics describe the pain of separation from a loved one, which Aftab says he draws from the experience of losing his younger brother and another close friend in a short time.

“With relationships, you think you’ll be friends with someone forever,” she told Momina’s Mixed Plate. “You don’t think your relationship with your brother will be short-lived.”

Image: Arooj Aftab accepts the Grammy for Best Worldwide Musical Performance for Mohabbat, at the 64th annual Grammy Awards in Las Vegas on April 3, 2022. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

In portraying these feelings, she said lyrics or poetry in English couldn’t quite capture them.

“I have yet to see poetry in English that has touched me like this old Urdu poetry,” she said.

Born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents, Aftab says memories of her childhood heavily influenced her album. While growing up in Lahore, Pakistan, she taught herself guitar and promoted her songs to Pakistani audiences online.

She moved to the United States to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, then settled in New York, where she worked on track editing and film scoring.

“Vulture Prince” became his first solo hit, drawing critical acclaim from Aftab and the attention of the likes of former President Barack Obama, who included “Mohabbat” on his summer 2021 playlist. later this month, she will also become the first Pakistani artist to perform at Coachella.

Her success places her in a small group of South Asian artists who have achieved notoriety in the United States. But in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in December, she said she has no interest in those labels.

“I’ve been in this industry for so long that I don’t deserve to be othered anymore,” she said.

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