In this concluding interview, Arooj Aftab discusses her artistic process when writing an album, the upcoming collaboration with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily, and the importance of letting music across all genres flourish.
he one thing that must be understood about the humble and articulate Arooj Aftab is that she puts the same premium on performing live as she does on creating music. Another factor that makes her so fascinating as an artist is that though she is a solo act, she is just as open to fascinating collaborations.
In 2022, she co-joined Asfar Hussain (Bayaan) for ‘Mehram’ on Coke Studio 14. Her beautiful collaboration with the brilliant Anoushka Shankar (‘Udhero Naa’), also in 2022, landed them a Grammy Award nomination for Best Global Music Performance. Arooj was nominated (and won) in the same category for ‘Mohabbat’ a year before. Though they didn’t win, Arooj Aftab - joined by Anoushka Shankar – delivered such a strong performance of ‘Udhero Naa’ at the Grammys that it gave us - and we feel safe to assume, the audience watching it on the ground - goosebumps.
Having played close to 200 shows last year, Arooj Aftab has moved on to writing her fourth album, which will release early next year.
However, she is also releasing a collaborative album this month with the esteemed Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily called Love in Exile.
The trio (or super-group as I like to call them) dropped their first single called ‘To Remain/To Return’ last month. It is a delicate, beautiful expansion on experimental jazz and is alluring enough to make you stop and really listen to the magnificence embedded in the song.
There is a belief that Arooj Aftab’s music can be obstinate and not as approachable. But that is one interpretation because when you do hear this song without preconceived notions, you’re left with a sense that the song highlights the talent of each actor in this musical play. The musicianship is not about following global trends but flows through what feels like an organic combination.
When asked about her artistic process in connection with Love in Exile, Arooj Aftab told Instep, “The sound landscape is totally different. I didn’t really have to do anything to make that happen, it just is by nature of the project since I am not leading it or making all the decisions. Each of us bring our specific magic and the collaboration feels very unique that way.”
She’s certainly right about that.
The title of this upcoming record, Love in Exile, can be, like all practices of performing art, interpretated in many ways. To me, the title brings to mind those who are longing to go home but cannot; they have been forced to vacate and of people who are minorities, refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and what falling in love would mean for such a person or persons.
A thoughtful Arooj Aftab said: “This piece holds, at its core, the delicately unfolding emotion of separation anxiety induced fury (see: love, self-exile) between two people who are deeply connected. One is leaving and the other is asking them to stay. The former is saying, I will leave but I will also return; in better form for the both of us.”
‘To Remain/To Return’ is the first track off the coveted upcoming album and when it does arrive, rest assured we will follow its trail.
In the meantime, I asked Arooj Aftab what does the victory of Samara Joy as well as the performance of ‘Udhero Naa’ at the Grammy stage and her own victory mean for the genre of jazz and her music at large.
“It’s hard to predict what any of it really means,” Arooj began, “but what I am happy about is that music across all genres is being lauded and encouraged to flourish at this time.”
As for her next solo album, mark your calendars for 2024 when Arooj Aftab aims to release her record. And her own process when she is writing a solo album hasn’t changed post-Grammys.
“I’m building out song ideas that I’ve had over the last year-and-a-half. It’s been great to return to writing and recording music after all the madness of the last year,” she concludes.