Grammy-winning Arooj Aftab’s Experimental Sufi Music Melts Into Minimalist Blur

2022 Grammy Award winner Arooj Aftab performed at the Chan Center on July 13 as part of the Indian Summer Festival. Although Aftab’s interpretation of his jazz-influenced experimental Sufi music created a distinct mystical atmosphere, the minimalist chain of long notes fades into infinity.

Taking up a small part of the stage for his entire performance, Aftab stood in a dramatic gothic look – an all-black outfit with feathery sequined shoulder pads – accompanied by Gyan Riley on guitar and Darian Donovan Thompson on violin. She performed most of her last album Prince Vulture.

The staging, like the lyrics, was minimalist, which helped the audience focus on the music. A small table with a bottle of wine, a wineglass and a vase of roses stood next to her. Throughout the performance, she threw roses, one by one, at the audience while joking that she wanted the audience to praise her with roses instead.

His jokes suggested an awareness of his work: Aftab’s sparse vocals and ambient arrangements are critically acclaimed, but not for everyone. It helped that she clearly didn’t take herself too seriously.

His sense of humor and showmanship kept the evening light and warm. She joked that her music was about sadness and sex, which describes her well: her voice is roaring but sultry while the violin lines evoke longing and uncertainty.

Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Aftab currently lives in New York, and her music is inspired by both: a blend of Sufi music and jazz.

Her voice is deep and she uses it as an instrument rather than just singing lyrics. She often does interpretations of old ghazals — a style of poetry written in the form of couplets which is also a genre of music. She tries to transform the old into something new. While his experimentation with the ghazals was interesting, it didn’t seem to lead to any concrete end result.

Its minimal style takes away most of the lyrics and therefore does no justice to the ghazals, who rely heavily on lyrics to convey their message. The second line of a verse is often a continuation of the idea presented in the first. However, its long notes often disfigure the verses to such an extent that the listener cannot piece together their meaning.

She mentioned that Indian Summer Festival founder Sirish Rao suggested playing live translations for the Hindi-Urdu lyrics on the back, to which she said it was a horrible idea because the lyrics all mean the same thing. Even though many songs are about nostalgia, ghazals have an exponentially different meaning.

For the audience who couldn’t understand the lyrics, it would have made the music even more uniform. Plus, she doesn’t use any percussion to help build and hold the beat, making it just as fluid.

His music creates a mystical and spiritual space. This is music for the bus loop after 11 p.m..m., when a few wandering souls are waiting for 99 or 84 to bring them home.

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