As part of a splendid trio that includes Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily, the brilliant vocalist bagged two nominations, making it her third consecutive year of recognition by the Grammys.
“Let’s make it all for one and all for love.” – ‘All for Love’ by Bryan Adams
When the term Greatest of All Time is used (G.O.A.T), within music, it applies to Arooj Aftab more often than anyone else. Why? Because of her unique musical aesthetic, which is one reason why even those who may not understand the language feel gobsmacked by her astonishing voice.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Aftab has been nominated for a third year in a row at the Grammys. Yup, it is as true as the sun rises and sets in the sky.
Aftab, who has been living in Brooklyn, New York for more than a decade – with roots in Lahore, Pakistan – is recognized this year for the collaborative record, Love in Exile, for which she joined forces with brilliant artists such as Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily.
Having heard the record, I can say with certainty that try as you might, you will be unsuccessful if you make an effort to box it to any one genre. But you will be astonished by the soundscape and vocal dexterity.
Released in 2023, the super trio landed Grammy nominations under the categories of Best Alternative Jazz Album and Best Collaborative Music Performance for the single ‘Shadow Forces’ earlier this month.
We’ve said it before and we will repeat it again just to jog our collective memories: Arooj Aftab is becoming a Grammy veteran and identifies with her South Asian roots and through her identification, we are also beginning to connect with a global sonic world.
She was last nominated at the Grammys for the track ‘Udhero Na’ ft. Anoushka Shankar in the category of Best Global Performance category. And though she didn’t win, she was invited to perform on music’s biggest stage. It was both magical and a massive achievement since very few artists get a chance to do so. Swimming in themes close to Aftab’s heart such as loss, longing and love, Love in Exile is not a disjointed record by any stretch of the imagination. It certainly features three excellent musicians but when you hear the record, it appears as one entity.
Aftab became the first Pakistani artist and woman to win a Grammy when she was nominated in two categories for Best New Artist as well as Best Global Music Performance for ‘Mohabbat’. She won in the latter category when the ceremony was held in 2022. She was again nominated for ‘Udhero Na’ ft. Anoushka Shankar and also performed at the ceremony though she didn’t win. Love in Exile released in 2023 and has been nominated (twice) for the ceremony set to take place early next year.
Speaking to Instep about Love in Exile, she said, “The sound landscape is totally different. Each of us brings our specific magic and the collaboration feels very unique that way.”
Unstoppable and an astonishing artist, Pakistan has finally begun to take note of her talent and it is high time we did so beyond cursory awards.
– Photo by Ebru Yildiz
– Artwork by Curry Hackett
In Flames is Pakistan’s official submission to the Foreign Language Film category at 96th Academy Awards, heads to Red Sea International Film Festival with Wakhri
Despite its many false starts, the revival of Pakistani cinema actually seems to be happening now. In the last two years alone, while we may not have seen the production of films increase in volume, the shared portfolio has definitely diversified.
We can’t hang the film industry’s activity and profitability on commercially viable films that will inevitably do well at the box office, nor can we, or should we, gauge it by the thoughtful independent cinema coming out of the country. If we were to look to Bollywood as the measuring stick, for every Mammo there was a Raja Babu, and the balance of both is what has brought that industry to its own unique economy and culture.
In Pakistan, we have a Kamli sharing the same screens as a Ghabrana Nahi Hai. While those instances are still more sporadic to convert a skeptic, just the fact that we can start, however limitedly, placing Pakistani film releases into genres, is promising.
The recently released In Flames, which had its premiere at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes this year, went on to show at Toronto International Film Festival and International South Asian Film Festival. The film then released in Karachi, Pakistan for a brief run, and was just the right amount of indie and cool, thrilling and basic, to guarantee it couldn’t be genred.
What makes In Flames a little more ‘basic’ is how close to lived Pakistani reality it is. While you might enjoy the madcap adventures any Filmwala Pictures movie takes you on, or the many charms of Humayun Saeed in any avatar, or Saba Qamar as a badass or grieving widow, it’s easy to recognize you’re watching fiction. One has to suppose that indie cinema is parallel for a reason: it stares fiction in the face and tells it a real story.
Pakistani-American director Iram Parveen Bilal’s Wakhri - inspired by but not necessarily the story of Qandeel Baloch - will premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival in late November.
Wakhri, produced by Abid Aziz Merchant and Apoorva Bakshi, features Faryal Mehmood in the titular role, and addresses the eventual fate of women in Pakistan who dare to take up any space. While not always ending in honor killing, Pakistani women who tend to be more vocal, publicly about the things they suffer or find unfair, are often honor-silenced. The Wakhri trailer looks very promising, and we hope the film receives the attention it deserves, and encourages the conversations it hopes to initiate.
Both Wakhri and In Flames, interestingly, choose not to let their heroines be victimized any more than they have to. While the In Flames director, Zarrar Kahn, said that in keeping with his film’s horror feel, he chose to let Mariam, the protagonist, be a ‘final girl’, Wakhri director Iram Parveen Bilal echoed a similar sentiment.
“...the militant optimist zeitgeist in us did not want to write a story without hope,” Bilal told Variety. “We don’t want to glorify an honor killing. We want to make a film where we [give] the Pakistani audience, the world’s audience, a second chance to possibly save her.”