Who is Arooj Aftab – the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy?

Brooklyn-based Pakistani vocalist Arooj Aftab scored her first Grammy on Sunday. She won the prestigious trophy for her song “Mohabbat” in the Best Global Performance category.

It’s an impressive win for Pakistan as Arooj is the first Pakistani woman to receive the prestigious trophy. The 37-year-old artist, in an interview, said:

I am beyond thrilled, and it feels great. I’ve been very nervous all day. And we’re off to a good start.

Speaking to a media outlet in the days leading up to the Grammys, Aftab praised her fellow artists nominated for Best New Artist. This group includes Olivia Rodrigo and rappers Saweetie and The Kid Laroi. She said:

We’re all so cool; the group itself is kind of like a win.

Here’s everything you need to know about Singer Arooj Aftab:

Interest in Music begins

Arooj Aftab is a singer whose work is based on Sufi-infused jazz sounds. Born in Saudia Arabia, the artist taught herself how to play guitar and learned to sing by listening to everyone from Mariah Carey, Billie Holiday, Begum Akhtar (Indian Ghazal queen), and Hariprasad Chaurasia. She steadily gained global attention for her work that fuses ancient Sufi traditions with inflections of folk, jazz, and minimalism.

Promotion using the Internet

Arooj Aftab became one of the first artists in Pakistan to promote herself using the Internet after she started making her own music. Her covers of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and Amir Zaki’s ‘Mera Pyar’ helped her establish her name in the music industry.

Aftab had her share of struggles living in Pakistan, where access to the Western online platform was difficult. She still promoted her music in Pakistan on the Pakistani Indie screen.

Big Things started to Happen after Move to New York

Arooj moved to New York in 2010. She began working as an editor and scoring films. Gradually, she became a part of the city’s jazz and “new music” culture. She enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in 2005 to polish her skills further.

Her diverse knowledge of music includes styles like jazz fusion, classical music, indie pop, minimalism, electronic, and acoustics. In 2011, she was included in the “100 Composers under 40” by NPR and WQXR-FM’s Q2. It is a prominent contemporary classical music internet radio station.

First Music Release

Arooj Aftab’s first album, “Birds Under Water,” was released in 2014. The debut album was a huge success and received international fame. She released her second album, “Siren Islands,” in 2018 via New Amsterdam Records. This album was included in NPR’s “Favourite Electronic and Dance Music of 2018” list. Her famous songs from these two albums include “Lullaby” and “Island No. 2”.

Her Music Career continued to Soar

Arooj worked as an editor on the documentary “Armed with Faith (2017)” in 2018 and won an Emmy Award for the same. The documentary narrates the harrowing and suspenseful stories of a squad of men who risk their own lives for their country every day.

Impeccable Fame hits her

Arooj sang, among other vocalists, on Residente’s Latin Grammy Award-winning single “Antes Que El Mundo Se Acabe” in 2020. In the same year, Arooj composed the music for the Student Academy Award-winning film Bittu by Karishma Dube.

In 2021, she released a third studio album, “Vulture Prince”. The songs narrate the stories of people, relationships, and lost moments. Arooj dedicated this album to her younger brother. The album gained international recognition as soon as it was released.

Her track `Mohabbat` also made its way to former US President Barack Obama`s annual summer playlist. The song was ranked no. 6 on Rolling Stone’s “Best Music of 2021” staff list and no. 21 by the Guardian on their list of the “50 Best Albums of 2021”. Interestingly, she won this year’s Grammy Award for the said song.


Arooj Aftab has collaborated with artists like Badi Assad, Jace Clayton, Vijay Iyer, Rafiq Bhatia, Toshi Reagon, Leo Genovese, Gyan Riley, Maeve Gilchrist, and Petros Klampanis. She has performed her style at festivals like The Big Ears Festival, The Ecstatic Music Festival, and San Francisco Jazz Festival.

Aftab has performed at several major New York venues, including Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, opening for Mitski at The Brooklyn Steel in 2018.

Listen to her song Mohabbat here:

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