AROOJ AFTAB (born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 11 March 1985) is a Saudi-born Pakistani vocalist, music composer, and producer based in the United States. She works in various musical styles and idioms, including jazz, minimalism, and neo-Sufi. Aftab won the News & Documentary Award at the 2018 Emmy Awards. She was nominated for the Best New Artist award and won the Best Global Music Performance award for her song “Mohabbat” at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards in April 2022. She became the first-ever Pakistani artist to win a Grammy Award.
Raised in Lahore, Pakistan, from the age of 10, Aftab came to prominence in Pakistan in the early 2000s when she developed a style that combines Sufi-mystical poetry with the spirit of independent rock. This sound catapulted her to stardom in Pakistan’s then-fledgling underground and online music community. She eventually moved to the U.S., earned a degree at the Berklee School of Music, and now lives in New York City.
Her music is inspired by the poetry and musicality of Rumi, Abida Parveen, and other Sufi poets, as well as the reworking of classical Pakistani and North Indian forms like khayal and kafi. She says Sufi words have impacted her writing: “It is very much about the feeling that (Sufi poetry) leaves you with calmness, peace, patience, simplicity. And then sadness, longing, wandering, searching, openness, oneness. I try to take all these qualities and weave them into my music.” She is adamant that her music not be defined as retro; instead, she’d prefer that her music be understood as a new approach to an old form. She says her music is, “something new that’s both musically and politically resonant for the contemporary moment.”
In 2011, NPR listed Aftab as one of the Top 100 Young Composers of today, alongside names such as grammy award-winning Esperanza Spalding and Fusion Jazz piano virtuoso Vijay Iyer. The New York Times included Aftab in their list of Best Concerts of 2012. TimeOut Magazine rated one of her collaborative projects in the Top 10 Classical Albums of 2013. Curious Animal Magazine listed Bird Under Water among the ten best albums, including Bjork, Sufjan Stevens, and Kendrick Lamar.
Aftab has collaborated with world-renowned artists such as Meshell Ndegeocello, Esperanza Spalding, DJ /rupture, and Abida Parveen, to name a few. She has performed her music at major venues such as the Lincoln Center, Highline Ballroom, Le Poisson Rouge, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She has also been invited to perform at festivals such as The Big Ears Festival, The Ecstatic Music Festival, and the SF Jazz Festival, to name a few.
Her 2021 album “Vulture Prince” (click to watch) was named the best album of 2021 by the 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. The album was ranked number twenty by The Guardian newspaper on their list of the “50 best albums of 2021”, and Laura Snapes named Aftab “the year’s biggest musical revelation.” Although not ranked on the Los Angeles Times’ top ten “Best Albums of 2021”, it was included on their “15 deserving albums” list.
Aftab and Anoushka Shankar are nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Global Music Performance for their single, “Udhero Na” (click to watch).