Love and respect for Hafeez Hoshiarpuri: Arooj Aftab

Brooklyn-based Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab has had quite a week. The artist, who became the first Pakistani to win a Grammy, was ecstatic over the honour. Arooj lifted music’s biggest accolade for her rendition of Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s Mohabbat karne wale, previously performed by the likes of Mehdi Hassan and Farida Khanum, in the Best Global Performance at the 64th Recording Grammys.

She later took to Instagram and shared her own little ‘press release’. “I am being inundated with so many questions by you guys, so I think I should answer three,” the artist began by saying.

She continued, “One thing, first of all, absolutely, 100% that I need to talk to you about and respond to you is what did BTS say. Nothing man, they didn’t say anything. I went up to them, and I said, ‘Hey guys, what’s up, let’s take a photo.’ Because we were all sitting right there next to each other the entire night, and they were like, ‘Sure! Of course, congratulations.’ We took a photo and then I said, ‘The Pakistani BTS ARMY loves you,’ and they said, ‘Thanks,’ and then I went back to my seat. that’s what happened with BTS.

Last week, when Arooj finally picked up the prestigious trophy for her iteration of the ghazal, Pakistanis flocked to their social media handles to revel in her victory. But while the applause was deafening, there was also slight chit-chat about her Grammy acceptance speech being “inadequate”, particularly in the Pakistani music circles.

Her speech did not seem to have struck the right chords with musicians and music lovers – particularly those familiar with Mehdi Hassan’s version and Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s body of work. Arooj, whose penchant for ancient wisdom peaks through her music, did not mention either of the greats while receiving the award, instigating a vigorous debate online, as well as on Pakistani musician WhatsApp groups. Some even felt deeply offended by her comparison of the category she won in to ‘yacht parties’ during her limited time on stage, while “snubbing” or “not finding the time to credit” the ancestors she referred to in a follow-up interview moments later.

Arooj, however, decided to address the matter this time around. “Lots of love and respect — respect, respect, respect to Hafeez Hoshiarpuri, who wrote the poetry of the song Mohabbat,” she said. “Aside from that, you have never heard anything like my version of Mohabbat and I am so grateful for all the love. And I am so grateful to all of you who have gone on the journey of that song with me where I have poured my whole soul into it. I hope that you feel that this iconic standard from our region and from our culture has been done the honours to.”

The third question she responded to, was whether she had the trophy with her. “The third question is where is the Grammy — they don’t let you [keep it], they don’t give it. They take it back and then they mail it to you later with your name on it. As soon as they mail it to me, I will go live with it [and] we’ll play with it, don’t worry about that,” she commented.

Soon after her win on the Awards night, the Grammy-winning artist also conversed with the Recording Academy on the sidelines of the red carpet. “I just felt like I was really nervous,” the 37-year-old singer laughed. “This is a life-changing moment for me, so I don’t believe any words came out of my mouth, really!” Talking about dreaming of winning a Grammy, Arooj shared how it is always an artist’s dream to bag an award as big as this. “I think it’s every musician’s, at least romantically in the periphery of our minds that one day, maybe, this could also be a thing along with creating the music that we love to create.”

Arooj went on to speak about her art and claimed that for her, music has always been that one thing that ‘sews’ you back together. “That has always been my vibe. I think I made music that translated to a lot of people, not just me and I am really, really proud of that,” she added. “A lot of respect for those who came before us; our ancestors and our ancients, they live on cosmically and they continue to make music through us. I like to think about that when I am writing music.”

She also shed light on how this year at the Grammys, a lot of women managed to make a mark. Arooj remarked, “It’s really great! This is a new era for music, very exciting.”

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