Grammy nominee Arooj Aftab talks about how
audiences have changed
The first Pakistani-American artist to pick up two nominations in the upcoming edition of Grammy Awards is aware of how she landed on the shortlist.
Speaking to Press Play podcast, one of the better music podcasts about music out there, Arooj Aftab observed, “It feels like the Academy is doing a good thing here, where it’s realizing that this is also popular but just from a different lens, and it deserves to be in the running as a Best New Artist,” she tells Press Play. “And one of the biggest things is that the American audiences are okay now listening to music that isn’t in English, because everywhere else in the world, they’ve been doing this for a long time very easily, right? … It’s like a giant breakthrough.”
She sings mainly in Urdu, drawing inspiration from Sufi poetry.
One song on her album draws from poetry by Mirza Ghalib. Explaining the lyrics, she said: “I’m saying if I give my heart to whoever, what can you really do about it if you if you give your heart away?”
She continued, “It’s not about anything at the end. It’s just about the power of this love and it being shared, and the understanding of these things that happened, like just talking in a very simple and real way, which is what I really appreciate.”
With melancholy being an overarching sonic sense, Arooj Aftab noted, “[Life] can fill you with so much disdain for it. … It’s so relentless in the way that it brings you joy, and it brings you so much sadness, and it gives you things and takes things away, and you’re just in this washing machine cycle. But then without that, everything is pointless. … So trying to have the most integrity and putting those thoughts and feelings out there into the music. Very personal music is what I’ve been trying to make.”
Watch out for Arooj Aftab who is set to appear on Coke Studio 14 in the coming days and weeks.
The first Pakistani woman to pick up two Grammy nods, Arooj Aftab will also perform at the iconic Coachella music festival in April 2022, another first for a Pakistani woman.
Mekaal Hasan Band
shoots for the stars
Mekaal Hasan Band’s Digital Fidelity Studio has played host to everyone from Atif Aslam to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan to Poor Rich Boy, Zeb and Haniya, Noori, Ali Azmat and many other independent and mainstream artists. However, his work as a producer and engineer has remained underrated.
What has managed to capture attention of music listeners across demographics is his music as the leader of Mekaal Hasan Band. As we’ve entered the New Year, Mekaal Hasan Band – after dropping three terrific albums as well as heading multiple festivals in different cities - in its current iteration has great plans. After mixing acclaimed British-Asian artist Shez Raja’s album, Tales from the Punjab at his studio in Lahore live (that has gone onto earn fantastic reviews), Mekaal is working on new material with his first love, Mekaal Hasan Band.
Confirming the news to Instep in an exclusive conversation, Mekaal revealed that for the early part of the year, he will be working on MHB material among other things he cannot speak about for the moment. “It would be better for me to work around the strengths of a singer I’ve encountered. Currently MHB is working with Shehzad Ali, a qawwal on vocals. I wouldn’t call it the fourth album. I’m not sure if it can be an album. All I’m doing is picking material around singers I’ve worked with, so with Shehzad, he is a qawwali guy; he’s not a classical or folk singer. I’ll be writing stuff for his vocal style and his aesthetic.”
The idea, noted Mekaal, is to marry the singer’s aesthetic with his own ideas. Keeping traditional music alive and working with traditional musicians is an idea that has stayed with MHB for many years. Here’s hoping 2022 sees another collection of releases from Mekaal Hasan Band, best known for critically acclaimed albums such as Sampooran, Saptak and Andholan.
Auj drop their debut
The last band to win Pepsi Battle of the Bands in 2019, Auj (Nasir Zaka, Abdur Rahman Sajid, Muhammad Kashif and Syed Hasnain Ali), dropped its debut album on December 31, 2021 with an event in Karachi. Since conquering the PBOTB competition which included the group performing beautiful originals such as ‘Raat’, ‘Aansu’ and ‘Lafz’, the band had been studiously and quietly working on a full-length album. After winning, Auj went about the album in just the right way, releasing music videos for songs such as ‘Duhrao’ (2018) and ‘Nawazish’ (2021) before releasing their debut album, Sifr.
The album contains 11 songs in a mix of singles that we first heard on PBOTB as well as brand-new tracks. While PBOTB-performed tracks like ‘Raat’, ‘O Jaana’ and ‘Aansu’ do feature on the album, the band has conspicuously left out the giant track, ‘Lafz’ for newer singles. Among these are songs like ‘Sukoon’, ‘Sabeel-e-Aarzu’ and the sizzling title track, ‘Sifr’. Auj took their time with the album, especially since Cov-Sars-2 had emerged by early 2020 in Pakistan as well as pretty much the whole world. Given the infectious nature of the virus, making a full-length album was a daring effort. Auj may have taken the risk, but they also took their time with writing, composing and polishing what would be their first album. Delivering it as we enter 2022, Sifr’s release has come at a time when music events are already happening. And, for any band, especially one releasing its debut album, success only follows if they get a chance to perform live. Upon the release, writing a note about their album, the group said in a post on Facebook, “We hope the 11 tracks listed in the album will make you get a sense and feel of this wandering, from Sifr to Raat.“
Sifr, produced by Auj in Karachi, is available on streaming platforms such as Spotify with distribution, licensing and release by Rearts imprint label Rearts Records, and album artwork designed by Azeem Hamid. As supporters of the album format, we’re thrilled to see Auj back in the spotlight. Lend an ear to their record to decide what you think of this pop-rock music outfit from Karachi. - Photography of the group is curated by Bilal Maqsood Butt