Arooj Aftab is a semi-classical, Hindustani, minimalist composer, songwriter and singer who grew up in Pakistan and is now based in Brooklyn. She was recently awarded the GRAMMY® Award for Best Global Music Performance for her song “Mohabbat” and is the first ever Pakistani artist to receive a GRAMMY® Award. She transforms ancient Urdu poetry and ghazals into genre-defying and contemplative compositions. Her album Vulture Prince was released in April 2021 and has received unprecedented critical acclaim and coverage including Pitchfork Best New Music, TIME Best Songs of 2021 so far, The Guardian Best Albums of 2021 so far, New York Times, BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour, Uncut, Mojo and lots more.
“Vulture Prince is about revisiting places I’ve called mine,” says Aftab, “places that don’t necessarily exist anymore. It’s about people, friendships, relationships—some relationships that were unexpectedly short term, and how to deal with that.”
While writing Vulture Prince Aftab lost her younger brother, Maher, and she dedicates this album to his memory – a signal of emergence from loss and grief. “E quindi uscimmo a revider la stelle,” as Dante says at last, out of the inferno, “and thence we came forth to see again the stars.”
Acting as a second chapter to Aftab’s 2015 debut, Bird Under Water, Vulture Prince opens with a new composition of “Baghon Main,” a track from her first album. The lead song, along with the avian album titles, ties the two records together. “The Tower of Silence comes to mind,” says Aftab, “the Parsi funeral structure where their beloved deceased are left to be consumed by vultures, thus returning to the cycle of life. These sort of shapeshifting elements, the burning desire to embody and lead this mystic ancestral power, growth as a person and musician, all led to Vulture Prince.”
Of course, Aftab’s signature songwriting style also led to Vulture Prince. The composer has an uncanny ability to make music with layers upon layers of instrumentation, yet somehow it all feels very light, uncluttered, minimal on the ears. Aftab’s music then mirrors her voice, ethereal yet heavy – like a cloud crossed with a boulder.
A graduate of Berklee College of Music, the composer channels artists from Terry Riley to Abida Parveen, and has played venues from Lincoln Center to (Le) Poisson Rouge to the Museum of Modern Art. In 2020, Aftab composed music for the Academy Award-shortlisted film Bittu and sang on Residente’s Latin Grammy Award-winning single “Antes Que El Mundo Se Acabe.” On Vulture Prince, she is backed by an all-star cast, including Badi Assad, Maeve Gilchrist, Jamey Haddad, Kenji Herbert, Shazhad Ismaily, Juliette Jones, Petros Klampanis, Nadje Noordhuis, Gyan Riley, and Darian Donovan Thomas.
So here is Vulture Prince – beautiful, powerful, dusky, and, above all, thoughtful. Included on the new album are singles, “Mohabbat” and “Last Night,” an old Rumi poem Aftab often sings live, but has never before released. Tucked subtly into Vulture Prince is “Saans Lo,” a song with words penned by the composer’s late friend Annie Ali Khan, who gently advises us to breathe – to move on. After seven minutes, “Saans Lo” fades into a washed-out drone before opening up into the colorful jazz-oriented closer, “Suroor” – a dynamic new world of possibilities.