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Pakistani-American singer Arooj Aftab's rendition of “Mohabbat” won the prize for Best Global Music Performance at the 2022 Grammys. The Brooklyn based singer won the category ahead of Femi Kuti (“Pà Pá Pà”), Wizkid and Tems (“Essence”), Angélique Kidjo and Burna Boy (“Do Yourself”) and Yo-Yo Ma and Angélique Kidjo (“Blewu”).
The lyrics of "Mohabbat", part of her album "Vulture Prince", go like this: "mohabbat karne vaale kam na hoñge/ tirī mahfil meñ lekin ham na hoñge ". It is a ghazal originally written by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri.
|Pakistani-American Urdu Singer Arooj Aftab Wins Grammy. Source: Yah...|
“I think I’m gonna faint. Wow thank you so much. I feel like this category in and of itself has been so insane,” Arooj said, accepting her award at the Grammy Award 2022 show in Las Vegas, Nevada. “Burna Boy, Wizkid, Femi Kuti, Angélique Kidjo—should this be called Best World Music Performance? I feel like it should be called ‘yacht party category.’ But, anyway, thank you so much to everyone who helped me make this record, all my incredible collaborators, for following me and making this music I made about everything that broke me and put me back together. Thank you for listening to it and making it yours.”
Arooj Aftab was born in Saudi Arabia, raised in Lahore and now lives in the United States. After an early taste of viral fame with a tender cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah when she was in her teens, she won a scholarship to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music, ranked among the top music schools in the United States. She earned a degree in music production and engineering at Berklee. Graduating in the throes of the 2008 recession, she landed in New York to begin her career, according to The Guardian newspaper.
Arooj sings mostly in Urdu. Her lyrics come from centuries-old poetry. Her music draws from seemingly everywhere. She brings in non-traditional instruments like synthesizer and lever harp to a traditional South Asian poetic form like the ghazal. She's even given her style its own name: neo-Sufi, according to an interview with the PBS. "It's not South Asian classical music with — like fused with jazz. It's like it's living in its own world of, like, a marriage of many roots and heritages. So I was kind of like, I need to, like, name this right now, you know?"
Here's Arooj Aftab's rendition of "Mohabbat":
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The Pop Song That’s Uniting India and Pakistan
The writer and musician Ali Sethi has created an unconventional hit with “Pasoori.”
A few years ago, the musician Ali Sethi was driving through Punjab, behind a jingle truck—the long-haul trucks known in his native Pakistan for their filigreed paint designs—when he spotted a phrase in florid Punjabi calligraphy on its back. “Agg lavaan teriya majbooriya nu,” it said—a call to “set fire to your compulsions.” It’s not uncommon to glimpse bits of verse, or dire warnings—against straying eyes or losing yourself in the big world out there—among the fluorescent parrots and tropical fruit schemes of jingle trucks. But Sethi couldn’t stop thinking about that phrase.
It inspired the first line of “Pasoori,” the thirty-seven-year-old’s latest single, a joyous, dance-fuelled hit that has drawn more than a hundred million views on YouTube since its release three months ago and is playing on the radio everywhere, from the United Arab Emirates to Canada. The song is stealthily subversive: a traditional raga—the classical Indian framework for musical improvisation—has been laid over an infectious beat that sounds South Asian, Middle Eastern, and, improbably, reggaetón, all at once. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you can tell that it’s a song about longing. “If your love is poison, I’ll drink it in a flurry,” Sethi sings in Punjabi with smooth anguish, in a rousing duet with Shae Gill, a Pakistani singer and Instagram star. “It’s my favorite genre,” a friend of mine said. “A love song that sounds like a threat.”
“Pasoori,” a Punjabi word that translates roughly to “difficult mess,” is about an age-old situation: two people who are forbidden from meeting each other. It’s written in the style of a courtesan song, a genre with origins in medieval South Asian poetry that emerged in response to the custom of arranged marriages. (Often the song is about an extramarital affair, and a courtesan is trying to persuade her married paramour to stay the night.) Full of puns and erotic innuendos, courtesan songs typically lament trysts that must take place in secret, meetings that don’t materialize, and the oppressiveness of polite society. “Pasoori” is ostensibly about star-crossed lovers, but it’s also an apt metaphor for the relationship between two countries in perpetual conflict whose histories and cultural touchstones are entwined.
Trans-themed film dazzles Cannes in Pakistan debut
The first-ever Pakistani entry in a Cannes Film Festival competition has left audiences slack-jawed and admiring of its daring portrait of a transgender dancer in the Muslim country.
"Joyland" by director Saim Sadiq, a tale of sexual revolution, tells the story of the youngest son in a patriarchal family who is expected to produce a baby boy with his wife but joins an erotic dance theatre and falls for the troupe's director, a trans woman.
The Cannes opening night's audience gave "Joyland" a standing ovation, Variety lauding the movie as "so fresh, we're continuously surprised", while Deadline called it "thoughtful, well performed and engrossing".
Part of the surprise stemmed from the discovery by many at Cannes that Pakistan became one the first nations to give legal protection against discrimination to transgender people.
In 2009, Pakistan legally recognised a third sex, and in 2018, the first transgender passport was issued.
"Pakistan is very schizophrenic, almost bipolar," director Saim Sadiq told AFP in an interview.
"You get, of course, prejudice and some violence against a particular community on the one hand, but you also get this very progressive law which basically allows everyone to identify their own gender, and also identifies a third gender," he said.
"Is it implemented entirely? Of course not. But it's only been four years since the legislative change started happening."
'Associated with poetry'
Before the British established their Indian Empire in the 19th century, trans people were not marginalised, said Sadiq.
"They were associated with art and poetry, they were the ones asked to teach manners to royals, to educate princes and princesses -- that was their space in society," he said.
Today, trans people in Pakistan "don't live as freely as they would perhaps in France", he added.
"But nor is it like it might be in the imagination of somebody who thinks: 'Muslim world'. At some level, they are freer than what you might anticipate," he added.
"Joyland" makes clear that the challenges for the trans community are broadly similar to those faced by cisgender women in Pakistan, where heterosexual men get to explore their desires, unlike everybody else.
"It's pretty terrible for anybody who is not a straight man," said Sadiq.
But he quickly added: "It's the same in the rest of the world, there's no country in the world where a straight man is not at the top of the pile."
There is, however, one crucial difference between cisgender and transgender women: "Women are fighting against their domestication and for trans women it's almost the other way around, they're fighting for a place at home. They're fighting to stay with their families, to not have to be on the streets," Sadiq said.
And while trans women are a familiar sight in streets in Pakistan, "unfortunately they'll be begging, or whatever".
'Everybody can relate'
The film's trans dancer character, Biba, is played by Alina Khan who is herself a transgender woman.
Through an NGO she auditioned, without being a professional actress, for a role in Sadiq's 2019 short film "Darling", got the part, and continued working with him.
"My character Biba and I share a similar struggle," Khan told AFP. "But Biba is angrier than I am."
Khan, who saw "Joyland" for the first time at the Cannes festival, said she felt proud and emotional during the screening.
Iram Parveen Bilal Wraps Pakistan Shoot on Social Media Themed Film ‘One of a Kind’ (EXCLUSIVE)
U.S.-Pakistani director Iram Parveen Bilal has wrapped principal photography at Pakistan locations on her fourth film “One of a Kind” (aka “Wakhri”).
Inspired by and offering tribute to unapologetic social media influencers like the slain Qandeel Baloch, the film is set in the world of patriarchal social media trolling and the burgeoning underground scene of the so-called “misfits” in modern-day Pakistan. It follows a Pakistani schoolteacher who accidentally unleashes the power of social media, unabashedly challenging the patriarchy. As she tries to keep her online identity a secret, she’s gradually exposed to society’s dangerous underbelly and forced to manage the repercussions.
Bilal describes the project as a “grounded masala” film that promises thought-provoking subject matter whilst also featuring loud Punjabi-language club tracks and Urdu-language rap songs to dance and chant with.
Bilal was named one of the directors to watch by the Alliance of Women Directors in 2020. Her previous film, “I’ll Meet You There,” was in the Grand Jury competition at SXSW in 2020 and hopes to overturn the ban on its release in Pakistan.
“Wakhri” was a 2018 Locarno Open Doors selection, where it was one of two Pakistani project selections, the other one being what is now Saim Sadiq’s Oscar contender “Joyland.” It was subsequently invited to the 2019 Cannes Cinefondation L’Atelier, becoming the first official selection of a project from Pakistan there. The project is also a Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) and CAA Foundation Full Story Initiative grant recipient and recently participated at the Busan Asian Project Market.
“Wakhri” features Pakistani actors Faryal Mehmood and Gulshan Majeed alongside well-known social media influencers. It is being produced by Abid Aziz Merchant’s Sanat Initiative banner (“Sandstorm”) and “Delhi Crime” producers Apoorva Bakshi and Monisha Thyagarajan’s Awedacious Originals, whose extensive slate was revealed by Variety at Busan, alongside Bilal’s Parveen Shah Productions (“Josh”). Roman Paul (“Paradise Now,” “Wadjda,” “Waltz With Bashir”) of Razor Film Produktion is co-producing.
Ludovica Isidori (“Sanctuary”) has shot the film, which has production design by Kanwal Khoosat (“Joyland”). The music of the film features celebrated Pakistani talent including Meesha Shafi, rapper Eva B (“Ms. Marvel”) and is being produced by Abdullah Siddiqui (“Coke Studio,” “Joyland”). Aarti Bajaj (“Sacred Games”) will be serve as editor.
Bilal is represented by Suchir Batra at CAA, Hannah Mulderink at Goodman, Genow, Schenkman, Smelkinson & Christopher, LLP and publicist Sam Srinivasan of Sechel PR.
December 28, 20223:59 PM ET
Heard on All Things Considered
2022 saw a rise of Pakistani pop culture worldwide, punctuated by a Grammy win, Ms. Marvel and an ovation at Cannes.
SHAPIRO: The first Muslim superhero to have her own comic.
SURBHI GUPTA: Showing a Pakistani American teen in a Pakistani household, that felt amazing.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Journalist Surbhi Gupta wrote about this banner year for Pakistani pop culture in New Lines Magazine.
GUPTA: We in South Asia know of this, but there were too many global moments, you know. And I was like, OK, this needs to be out there.
MCCAMMON: Gupta was born and raised in India. She writes that this is far from the first time Pakistani culture has made a global splash.
GUPTA: So, like, in the '80s, you know, my parents would talk about the Hassan siblings. They were the rage with "Disco Deewane."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DISCO DEEWANE PART I")
NAZIA HASSAN: (Singing) Disco, disco, disco deewane.
SHAPIRO: That 1981 album broke sales records in Pakistan and India, and it charted worldwide, including places like Russia and the West Indies.
MCCAMMON: This year, a Pakistani hit again drew global attention.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PASOORI")
SETHI AND GILL: (Singing in non-English language).
MCCAMMON: The song "Pasoori" by Ali Sethi and Shae Gill climbed to the top of Spotify's global viral charts, and Google searches for it beat out tracks by the K-pop group BTS and the singer Harry Styles.
SHAPIRO: Then in April, the Brooklyn-based Pakistani singer and composer Arooj Aftab won a Grammy for best global music performance for her rendition of the traditional song "Mohabbat."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOHABBAT")
AFTAB: (Singing in non-English language).
It's important to define this moment, I think, for everyone and ourselves.
MCCAMMON: We spoke with her earlier this year before she won that award. And while Aftab was excited about being nominated in a global music category, being part of the best new artist category sent a bigger message about her place on the world stage.
AFTAB: The industry has put us in these other categories for such a long time because of the sort of racial climate of America for all this while. And so this moment where I'm in this best new artist category next to all these other artists is a monumental moment.
SHAPIRO: Pakistan had monumental moments in film this year, too, with the first Pakistani film ever officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival, a transgender love story called "Joyland."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JOYLAND")
SHAPIRO: Here's Gupta again.
GUPTA: It's about a family in Lahore, and it unpacks, like, different nuances of gender and patriarchy. And then, like, his relationship with this trans starlet, this was almost banned. But the international recognition that the film had had kind of forced the federal government to intervene and then pave the way for its release.
MCCAMMON: We asked her, what's spurring this renaissance? One theory - the world is ready.
GUPTA: I think it's been 20 years since 9/11. So there were a lot of stereotypes also associated to Pakistanis and Muslims, which I think now perhaps we are shedding.
MCCAMMON: Still, she says, Pakistani artists are doing it on their own terms, being authentically themselves.
GUPTA: American pop culture has such a strong influence globally to kind of define what local culture has become. But I think the beauty of Pakistani culture is that it is not pretending to be something it is not.
SHAPIRO: That's Surbhi Gupta. Her article, "Pakistani Pop Culture Has Had A Global Year," is in New Lines Magazine.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PASOORI")
SETHI AND GILL: (Singing in non-English language).
Watch: Muslim politician in a kilt swears oath in Urdu to British queen
By Ishaan Tharoor
May 13, 2016
In an emphatic demonstration of British multiculturalism, a Muslim politician elected to Scottish parliament delivered his oath of allegiance in Urdu while wearing a kilt.
Humza Yousaf, a member of the Scottish National Party who won a seat from the city of Glasgow, spoke first in English and then in the language linked to his Pakistani heritage, swearing "that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth" and concluding with "so help me God."
His party championed Scotland's unsuccessful bid for independence in 2014, framing its nationalism not on ethnic identity but on the desire for a distinct, diverse nation to have greater control over its affairs. The SNP now dominates politics in Edinburgh and has a sizable bloc of seats in Westminster as well.
On Twitter, Yousaf laughed off the predictable backlash to his oath from those fearful of the role of Islam in British society.
Yousaf was not the only politician to take the oath in another language: Other members of Scottish parliament spoke in local tongues such as Doric, Gaelic and Scots.
Pakistani singer Ali Sethi wows Coachella crowd with Pasoori
The Punjabi track was 2022’s most-searched song on Google and has surpassed half a billion views on YouTube.
A tale of forbidden love with an infectious hook, Ali Sethi’s song Pasoori has become an international phenomenon, fusing poetic tradition with global beats to fuel the rise of the Pakistani singer’s star.
The Punjabi track whose title roughly translates to “difficult mess” was 2022’s most-searched song on Google and has surpassed half a billion views on YouTube, offering a melodic metaphor for conflict between India and Pakistan in the form of an impassioned love song with an eminently danceable flow.
The song’s origins stem from when Sethi was asked to pen a song for the popular Pakistani television programme Coke Studio, which occurred just after an experience where an Indian broadcaster had pulled out of a creative partnership because the 38-year-old is Pakistani.
“You’re a Pakistani, and India and Pakistan are at war, and now we can’t really put up a billboard saying we are working with you because extremists will set fire to our building,” the singer recalls being told.
“As a Pakistani, I have grown up with that… ‘Oh you can’t do this because it’s prohibited, yada yada.'”
‘All true love is prohibited’
The experience got his creative wheels turning. “Of course, the theme of prohibition is such an eternal theme in South Asian love songs – all true love is prohibited,” he told the AFP news agency following an electrifying party of a performance on Sunday at the Coachella music festival in the United States, a cherry on top of his remarkable year.
“So I wanted to write a song that was sort of a flower bomb hurled at nationalism and heteropatriarchy,” Sethi continued, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and black button-up with colourful embroidery alluding to styles of the American southwest. “With all the fun innuendos and all this camp energy.”
Sethi says he drew on Punjabi folk songs of his youth, imbuing the lyrics with puns and double entendres, “a nice way to slip in and subvert orthodox views without really appearing to be out beyond the veil”.
He performs the track with Shae Gill, a singer born to a Christian family in Lahore.
Sethi was “astounded” by the global response to the song, which has the improvisational framework of a traditional South Asian “raga” mixed with the region’s contemporary sounds, along with Turkish strings, flamenco-style claps and the four-four Latino reggaeton beats keeping rhythm for much of today’s reigning pop.