Fresh off her historic Grammy win, Brooklyn-based Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab has added another feather to her cap with a debut at the highly touted Coachella music festival.
She graced the California desert with a set that focused her melodious lyricism on Urdu, a move that broke barriers as she became the first Pakistani to play at the prestigious festival.
For Aftab, the language barrier no longer exists: “This is a door that has been opened.”
The 37-year-old singer, who has just released a version of “Di mi nombre” by Spanish flamenco revisionist Rosalía, sees a revolution in popular music, with artists freely navigating beyond genres and borders.
“There’s a movement going on in the music industry in general,” he told AFP on the Coachella grounds, where he gave a moving performance of his work that fuses ancient Sufi traditions with inflections of folk, jazz and minimalism.
“Audiences and musicians are creating music and audiences are listening to music with a lot of freedom in their minds. Less gender-gender, less border-border,” she said.
“It’s so free and open and really, really beautiful.”
She credits the Latinx community for making great strides in this regard, citing Rosalía along with Becky G, Karol G, J. Balvin and Bad Bunny as influential in the transformation.
“The trap movement definitely changed the way listeners listen,” Aftab said, referring to the explosion of hip hop from the southern United States that later came to Latin America and merged with reggaeton.
The emergence of Latin music on the US airwaves and especially on streaming platforms “created a huge opening in the minds of listeners in the United States,” he continued.
“Now they listen to music they don’t understand, and that’s fine! They love it. That’s a big step.”
Aftab said that the openness has allowed her to feel more liberated with her own creations, putting out music based on emotions, without limitations.
“It’s personal music,” he said. “It’s not ‘my country, my country,’ it’s global music. It’s everything we feel, it’s all the people we meet.”
“What makes my heart sing is in the music.”
– a stop –
With three studio albums to her name, Aftab just weeks ago made history by becoming the first Pakistani solo artist to win a Grammy, winning for her song “Mohabbat” in the Best Global Performance category.
She was also nominated in the prestigious Best New Artist field, though that award went, unsurprisingly, to pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo.
But Aftab is basking in the moment of recognition, savoring the accolades of her career as well as her two performances at the premier Coachella festival.
“It feels really amazing, it’s a great moment in my career,” said the singer. “I’ve been working for this moment and imagining that this moment would come, or not.”
“And he did! Which is miraculous.”
She’s also excited to be back in front of live audiences, with Coachella returning after a three-year, pandemic-induced hiatus.
Featuring artists from around the world, the Coachella 2022 lineup is a reflection of the globalization and gender fluidity of music.
For Aftab, that’s a big victory: “This is a door that has been opened, for sure.”
“And I’m going to leave the door open, for sure.”