While Pakistani-American singer Arooj Aftab may be the first Pakistani woman to be in the nominations for a Grammy and the first Pakistani to be nominated in the Best New Artist and Best Global Performance category, she refuses to let these accolades define her.
The Mohabbat singer told radio station WYPR in a recent interview that she does not want these accolades to define her. “To be nominated as a Best New Artist, for me, feels like all this work I have done, not to be otherized and not always be thought of as ‘new age’ or ‘world music’ or ‘international folk,'” she said.
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 is “elated” about her music being recognized 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 recognizes musicians based on their accolades.
The host then asked about the ‘new’ aspect of the category she is nominated for. “It is not unusual in the music world to be introduced as a new artist when you have been at it for ages,” she said. “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 am still alive and I am just glad that it is happening while I am still in my thirties.” The singer described it as a “pleasant and dramatic surprise” that she is grateful for and is hopeful for what is 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 should not have done that because I was so young and it is 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.
Aftab made quite a name for herself by bagging the Best New Artist nomination at the Grammys last year, making the Pakistani music industry proud. She is also the first Pakistani artist to perform at the American musical festival Coachella this year.
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