Grammy Winning Artist Arooj Aftab Eludes Convention And Honours Jazz With Her New Album ‘Night Reign’

Arooj Aftab

Dark dreams and sensually tender visions. Undefiled longing and then some more. Arooj Aftab’s upcoming album ‘Night Reign’ is steeped in a constellation of graceful rejections and sombre quietude, where she manages to honour customs while somehow retaining her independence.

Arooj Aftab’s calmness comes in handy, as does her intrepid approach because this album lays an increased emphasis on nonconformity, and her chronic love for jazz. From collaborating with Tessa Thompson for the music video of ‘Raat Ki Rani’ to covering the iconic jazz standard ‘Autumn Leaves,’ her fans are in for a sumptuous dalliance between desire and darkness.

Keep reading for our chat with her, where we discussed all things inspiration, poetry, her touring plans and her denunciation of limiting the ever-evolving prowess of an artist.

ELLE: What’s your litmus test for a good song?

Arooj Aftab: It just has to make me feel good, I guess.

ELLE: What was the process of working on ‘Raat Ki Rani’ and how did it come into being? Did it fall out of the sky for you or did it take its own time?

Arooj Aftab: It definitely came to me. It hit me all at once, I would say. When I was in Karachi at a party, at night I smelt the flower Raat Ki Rani in somebody’s garden. And I said, “Wow, this is an experience.” And since I don’t spend a lot of time in Pakistan, for me it was a romantic moment of sorts that I was having with myself and the place. So it came to me like that and then I built on it over the course of a year. What does Raat Ki Rani mean and what did I feel? Was it nostalgia? Was it longing for a place that I don’t visit often? What is this thing, this alluring magnetic thought? I thought about it over time but the initial theme hit me right away.

ELLE: What was it like working with Tessa Thompson on the video for ‘Raat Ki Rani?’

Arooj Aftab: Oh my God, she’s just incredible. She is like a vision. She is so nice to other people, which is very rare for someone in her position. She is a great director and extremely talented. And she’s a romantic person, which is what I needed the most for the song to be executed in visual form. And I didn’t even know that I needed someone like her. I didn’t even think anyone could portray it so well with so much beauty and elegance and also make it detailed. So, I don’t know how that happened, but it happened and I’m so glad. She’s amazing, talented, intelligent, and deeply understands music.

ELLE: Take us through your touring plans this year.

Arooj Aftab: I really want to come to India, that is always on the table as I have great fans there. You guys are good to me and I appreciate that. But for now, I’m going to Europe and the UK and I’m also touring with Khruangbin for a bit in the US and that’s it for this year.

ELLE: Take us through your relationship with ghazals and how the genre has impacted your creative process as an artist.

Arooj Aftab: So, what I think about ghazals is that they are a style of poetry, first. I care a lot about that style of writing as it also works for my music because I don’t like to tell a long story. I love metaphors, illusions, secrets, and less words. And I take that poetry and I turn it into a ‘non-ghazal’ type of music. Ghazals are not something that I have studied, same with qawwalis and classical music. I’m not a ghazal singer. I’m doing something very different. I take that style of poetry that appeals to me and works for my music. I like to borrow from that vessel and turn it into something absolutely new. So that’s my relationship with ghazals. And I also really like the form itself, ghazals, khayal, thumri, I love those things.


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ELLE: What is your approach to minimalism in music?

Arooj Aftab: I really like it. I think minimalism is an act of ‘less is more.’ It’s the same thing I was talking about earlier. The poet doesn’t necessarily need a lot of words. It’s chill. Instead of a lot of words, you have a lot of metaphors. They say a lot while saying less and that is so great for music. Minimalism is important to me because there is a lot going on, but it just looks very simple, on the surface. And that’s what it’s about.

ELLE: What instrument do you connect to, the most?

Arooj Aftab: I can tell you that I connect to all of them. But the one that I play is the guitar. And I really like bass.

ELLE: Earlier, you were quoted saying you wanted to make music more aligned with your personality and away from the ‘saintly and mystical’ tag. Have you achieved that with this album?

Arooj Aftab: Yeah, I’d like to think so. I mean, it’s nice to have a lot of people associate my music with a spiritual context. And they say it’s very meditative, it’s very ambient, it’s very transcendent. All of these things are true. But at the same time as an artist, we are evolving and we just want to keep rebuilding ourselves over and over again and keep reinventing. We don’t want to be in a box. There’s always a tussle with whatever people choose to call us, even if we are that. And so on this new record, I think so much of it is original music. A lot of it is my voice. A lot of the lyrics that I’ve written are new. This is the first time it is happening. So yeah, it is more personal for sure. And I’m really excited and nervous about that too. I’m just a baby. I’m just growing.


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ELLE: What made you cover Autumn Leaves, this iconic jazz standard for your album?

Arooj Aftab: Covering it is just a nod at my music history. My background in jazz is very strong. I consider it highly collaborative and forward-thinking. That’s just at the core of all my music, and jazz. And I just wanted to do a little tipping of my hat to all the greatest things that have inspired me. And I didn’t want to be so direct about it, so I did this strange cover of it.

ELLE: An Indian artist you’d really like to collaborate with and why?

Arooj Aftab: I could be really boring about it and say that I would like to collaborate with Hariprasad Chaurasia. Or I could be more inventive, and I could say that I want to collaborate with Divine, the rapper. You know, I just became friends with Jasmine Sandlas. She’s so cool.

Also Read: Desi Indie Singers Defying Stereotypes & Giving The Music Landscape A Much Needed Overhaul

- Digital Fashion Writer


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