Arooj Aftab

Contact Details:

Armley Road, Leeds, LS12 2DR

Leeds Inspired

Arooj Aftab

3rd November 2024

Transformative may not be an urgent enough word to describe the multi-hyphenate creative Arooj Aftab. Rooted to a constellation of unmappable margins and elegant refusals, she lithely moves against the weight of time and convention, honoring multiple traditions while being owned by none. She eludes categorical capture through an expansive repertoire of study, including the techniques of music production and engineering as well a sprawling vocal practice that moves with cunning intention through and alongside jazz, South Asian classical music, pop, and blues. With and from these living, mercurial forms Aftab labors in design of something that she adoringly refers to as “global soul.” She is its erudite scribe and dark chanteuse, successfully convincing audiences all over the world that genres are a lie but she should be believed.

The scale of Aftab’s musical inheritances are on brilliant display in her two most recent albums: the Grammy-nominated “masterclass in space” Love in Exile (Verve, 2023), co-created with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily, and her fourth solo project, the incandescent Night Reign (Verve, 2024). Both are spectacles in skill and Aftab tenderly, expertly holds all of their supple elements like priceless heirlooms. Her seeking, from Sufi poets to iconic jazz vocalists, proved to her that “there was no blueprint for this thing I wanted to do,” and it’s for her embrace of risk and nonconformity that Aftab earned her position at the vanguard of creative music. Since 2021, she has delivered “rapturous performances” at major venues and international festivals such as the Newport Jazz Festival, Coachella, Roskilde Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Glastonbury, and twice on NPR’s Tiny Desk series; received critical praise from The New York Times, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Time Magazine; and been awarded a Grammy for “Mohabbat” in the Best Global Music Performance category and a Best New Artist nomination for her standout third album, Vulture Prince (Verve/New Amsterdam, 2021), two nominations for Love in Exile, as well as her selection as a 2023 United States Artists Fellow and recipient of the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Music.

Before and beyond Aftab’s many accolades is the instrument itself, her craveable voice, which she describes as an alchemy of “displacement, reinvention, exile, chaos, feminism and the maddening fabric of love and loss and tragedy in the world.” The calm in her vocal delivery is not comfort or consent but a persistent and expectant intensity that sears the text to countless lifetimes in as many lands. Herself the subject of various migrations, Aftab spent her adolescent years in Lahore, Pakistan, a garden-dense city and the birthplace of her music-loving parents. Her viral cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at age eighteen aided in her passage to study jazz at Berklee College of Music in Boston, while Brooklyn, New York would be her next and most fertile workshop for creation of her “world-building” music. Night Reign is both a vivid reflection of and future for that music held by the trace figurations of the city. There Aftab works with some of the most stunning musicians of our time, raising diverse concentric circles of collaboration that reflect back to her a cosmic level of musical craft and invention.

Aftab enchants with her passionate attention to the everyday and ability to indelibly shape its stratospheric poesis. She dares to express affection from the stage, a profoundly musical achievement that models not only how to do so but why. Emboldened by her fearlessness and exquisite imagination, others gather and play, proving that she’s exactly who and where she is meant to be. “For once, I’m not fighting,” she says with signature candor. “I’ve already won.”