The first Grammy for a nation of 220 million people should be celebrated no less than the first Nobel Prize or the first Oscar. Thank you Arooj Aftab to show us this day.
Not too long ago, a friend and I were listening to “Ae dil kisi ki yaad main” by Ali Zafar at one of his Coke Studio performances from several years ago. I praised how Ali Zafar had taken an old Pakistani song and sung it really well with powerful vocals in a modern pop-music style. As I looked towards my friend hoping he would also be enjoying, he said, “These new singers always butcher the old songs. This is nothing but a mockery of the original by Saleem Raza.”
I debated with him that we should be thankful to the new artistes for reviving old songs. Instead of accusing them of lack of creativity, we should express gratitude towards them for introducing the forgotten songs to the new generation. When sung in a new style, an old song is on the lips of millions of young people and they get an opportunity to enjoy it in the same way that the older generation did. They get to know the original singer from several decades ago and it keeps the art alive over generations. Such tributes are not only heartwarming but necessary for the younger generation to be introduced to and get familiarized with the musical giants of the past.
The other evening, I heard the news of a Pakistani-American singer Arooj Aftab winning a Grammy in the category of Best Global Music. This is the first Grammy for Pakistan. A very big deal. I watched her acceptance speech which was delivered in a very elegant manner. I had not heard of her before this announcement. I instantly searched up her music on Spotify and played her song Grammy-winning song “Mohabbat”. The moment the song started I realized that it was a remake of Hafiz Hoshiarpuri’s “Mohabbat karne wale kam na hongay” which has been sung by Pakistani musical giants such as Mehdi Hassan and Farida Khanum. I was ecstatic and tearful.
Beginning her life in a conservative country where women up until now were not allowed to drive, let alone create music, followed by self-learning in Lahore, she went on to win the highest award in the world of music.
I remember when the FM radio was new in Pakistan back in 1990s. The high-quality digital sound of FM radio used to be so fascinating compared to AM radio. Being teenagers, we would listen to it for hours and sometimes the whole night. We had our favourite music programmes and DJs. I still remember a ghazal version of “Mohabbat karne wale” by Mehdi Hassan, which was more than twenty minutes long, and the DJ would play it every night. It became one of my favourites by the King of Ghazals as it was for many other Pakistanis but up until now, was an unknown ghazal for the younger generation.
Having spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia and Lahore, Arooj Aftab moved to Boston and attended the Berklee College of Music. She then moved to New York City and got involved with local music scene. Within years, her talent started showing its colours and her music started becoming recognized by notable critics writing for NPR and Time. She got a major boost when Barack Obama selected the song “Mohabbat” from her album Vulture Prince as one of his summer playlist favourites for 2021.
Beginning her life in a conservative country where women up until now were not allowed to drive, let alone create music, followed by self-learning in Lahore, she went on to win the highest award in the world of music. This is an inspiring story for all Pakistani girls and women to pursue their dreams and passions and not let the culture or society clip their wings.
This Grammy is not won just by Arooj Aftab. This is a Grammy for Mehdi Hassan. This is a Grammy for Farida Khanum, a Grammy for Hafiz Hoshiarpuri. This is a Grammy for every Pakistani who loves music. This is a Grammy for our beautiful Urdu. This is as much a Grammy for ghazal as it is for pop music. This is a Grammy for every generation of Pakistanis, old and young alike. This is a Grammy for Pakistan. Our first. There’s never as good as the first time. Thank you Arooj.