Sunday, April 3, 2022

Pakistani-American Urdu Singer Arooj Aftab Wins Grammy For "Mohabbat"

Pakistani-American singer Arooj Aftab's rendition of “Mohabbat” won the prize for Best Global Music Performance at the 2022 Grammys. The Brooklyn based singer won the category ahead of Femi Kuti (“Pà Pá Pà”), Wizkid and Tems (“Essence”), Angélique Kidjo and Burna Boy (“Do Yourself”) and Yo-Yo Ma and Angélique Kidjo (“Blewu”).  

The lyrics of "Mohabbat", part of her album "Vulture Prince", go like this: "mohabbat karne vaale kam na hoñge/ tirī mahfil meñ lekin ham na hoñge ". It is a ghazal originally written by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri. 

محبت کرانیوالی کم نا ہونگے
تیری محفل میں لیکن ہَم نا ہونگے
محبت کرانیوالی کم نا ہونگے
زمانے بھر كے غم یا اک تیرا غم
یہ غم ہو گا تو کتنے غم نا ہونگے

Pakistani-American Urdu Singer Arooj Aftab Wins Grammy. Source: Yahoo News

“I think I’m gonna faint. Wow thank you so much. I feel like this category in and of itself has been so insane,” Arooj said, accepting her award at the Grammy Award 2022 show in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Burna Boy, Wizkid, Femi Kuti, Angélique Kidjo—should this be called Best World Music Performance? I feel like it should be called ‘yacht party category.’ But, anyway, thank you so much to everyone who helped me make this record, all my incredible collaborators, for following me and making this music I made about everything that broke me and put me back together. Thank you for listening to it and making it yours.” 

Arooj Aftab was born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Lahore and now lives in the United States. After an early taste of viral fame with a tender cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah when she was in her teens, she won a scholarship to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music, ranked among the top music schools in the United States.  She earned a degree in music production and engineering at Berklee. Graduating in the throes of the 2008 recession, she landed in New York to begin her career, according to The Guardian newspaper

Arooj sings mostly in Urdu. Her lyrics come from centuries-old poetry. Her music draws from seemingly everywhere. She brings in non-traditional instruments like synthesizer and lever harp to a traditional South Asian poetic form like the ghazal. She's even given her style its own name: neo-Sufi, according to an interview with the PBS.  "It's not South Asian classical music with — like fused with jazz. It's like it's living in its own world of, like, a marriage of many roots and heritages. So I was kind of like, I need to, like, name this right now, you know?"

Here's Arooj Aftab's rendition of "Mohabbat":


Riaz Haq said...

arooj aftab
A highly competitive category, full of highly respected legendary nominees. I am humbled and grateful for this win. Making a deeply personal and crossover music, in Urdu, and being seen for it… feels like a breakthrough. thank you AND congratulations ❤️

Riaz Haq said...

The Pop Song That’s Uniting India and Pakistan
The writer and musician Ali Sethi has created an unconventional hit with “Pasoori.”

A few years ago, the musician Ali Sethi was driving through Punjab, behind a jingle truck—the long-haul trucks known in his native Pakistan for their filigreed paint designs—when he spotted a phrase in florid Punjabi calligraphy on its back. “Agg lavaan teriya majbooriya nu,” it said—a call to “set fire to your compulsions.” It’s not uncommon to glimpse bits of verse, or dire warnings—against straying eyes or losing yourself in the big world out there—among the fluorescent parrots and tropical fruit schemes of jingle trucks. But Sethi couldn’t stop thinking about that phrase.

It inspired the first line of “Pasoori,” the thirty-seven-year-old’s latest single, a joyous, dance-fuelled hit that has drawn more than a hundred million views on YouTube since its release three months ago and is playing on the radio everywhere, from the United Arab Emirates to Canada. The song is stealthily subversive: a traditional raga—the classical Indian framework for musical improvisation—has been laid over an infectious beat that sounds South Asian, Middle Eastern, and, improbably, reggaetón, all at once. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you can tell that it’s a song about longing. “If your love is poison, I’ll drink it in a flurry,” Sethi sings in Punjabi with smooth anguish, in a rousing duet with Shae Gill, a Pakistani singer and Instagram star. “It’s my favorite genre,” a friend of mine said. “A love song that sounds like a threat.”


“Pasoori,” a Punjabi word that translates roughly to “difficult mess,” is about an age-old situation: two people who are forbidden from meeting each other. It’s written in the style of a courtesan song, a genre with origins in medieval South Asian poetry that emerged in response to the custom of arranged marriages. (Often the song is about an extramarital affair, and a courtesan is trying to persuade her married paramour to stay the night.) Full of puns and erotic innuendos, courtesan songs typically lament trysts that must take place in secret, meetings that don’t materialize, and the oppressiveness of polite society. “Pasoori” is ostensibly about star-crossed lovers, but it’s also an apt metaphor for the relationship between two countries in perpetual conflict whose histories and cultural touchstones are entwined.

Riaz Haq said...

Trans-themed film dazzles Cannes in Pakistan debut

The first-ever Pakistani entry in a Cannes Film Festival competition has left audiences slack-jawed and admiring of its daring portrait of a transgender dancer in the Muslim country.

"Joyland" by director Saim Sadiq, a tale of sexual revolution, tells the story of the youngest son in a patriarchal family who is expected to produce a baby boy with his wife but joins an erotic dance theatre and falls for the troupe's director, a trans woman.

The Cannes opening night's audience gave "Joyland" a standing ovation, Variety lauding the movie as "so fresh, we're continuously surprised", while Deadline called it "thoughtful, well performed and engrossing".

Part of the surprise stemmed from the discovery by many at Cannes that Pakistan became one the first nations to give legal protection against discrimination to transgender people.

In 2009, Pakistan legally recognised a third sex, and in 2018, the first transgender passport was issued.

"Pakistan is very schizophrenic, almost bipolar," director Saim Sadiq told AFP in an interview.

"You get, of course, prejudice and some violence against a particular community on the one hand, but you also get this very progressive law which basically allows everyone to identify their own gender, and also identifies a third gender," he said.

"Is it implemented entirely? Of course not. But it's only been four years since the legislative change started happening."

'Associated with poetry'
Before the British established their Indian Empire in the 19th century, trans people were not marginalised, said Sadiq.

"They were associated with art and poetry, they were the ones asked to teach manners to royals, to educate princes and princesses -- that was their space in society," he said.

Today, trans people in Pakistan "don't live as freely as they would perhaps in France", he added.

"But nor is it like it might be in the imagination of somebody who thinks: 'Muslim world'. At some level, they are freer than what you might anticipate," he added.

"Joyland" makes clear that the challenges for the trans community are broadly similar to those faced by cisgender women in Pakistan, where heterosexual men get to explore their desires, unlike everybody else.

"It's pretty terrible for anybody who is not a straight man," said Sadiq.

But he quickly added: "It's the same in the rest of the world, there's no country in the world where a straight man is not at the top of the pile."

There is, however, one crucial difference between cisgender and transgender women: "Women are fighting against their domestication and for trans women it's almost the other way around, they're fighting for a place at home. They're fighting to stay with their families, to not have to be on the streets," Sadiq said.

And while trans women are a familiar sight in streets in Pakistan, "unfortunately they'll be begging, or whatever".

'Everybody can relate'
The film's trans dancer character, Biba, is played by Alina Khan who is herself a transgender woman.

Through an NGO she auditioned, without being a professional actress, for a role in Sadiq's 2019 short film "Darling", got the part, and continued working with him.

"My character Biba and I share a similar struggle," Khan told AFP. "But Biba is angrier than I am."

Khan, who saw "Joyland" for the first time at the Cannes festival, said she felt proud and emotional during the screening.