Five months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arooj Aftab, a musician who came from Pakistan to study at Berklee College of Music. I first saw Arooj perform August 2011, at Unification in NYC, where she quickly won over the crowd with her haunting Urdu vocals. After Unification, I went back home and started listening to Arooj’s music. Disclaimer: It’s addictive. One frigid fall night, standing outside her Brooklyn apartment, Arooj, one of NPR’s 100 Top Composers Under 40, shared the story of her musical journey with me via phone.
When did you know that you wanted to sing? After I finished school at Lahore, I started college, but it just didn’t feel right. I had a strange feeling that there had to be something more exciting to do in life. I had always loved music, because of my parents’ love for music and because of the music culture in Lahore. But there were no musical schools in Pakistan, which was kind of annoying.
Now your parents must be pretty cool, to let you come to America and pursue your music. Was there ever a “No beta, don’t do this” moment? It’s such a stereotypically unstable profession. So they always have a “Oh god, why did we let you do this” attitude. But I think secretly they’re excited because they both have great voices themselves and a love for music. In 2003, I made my dad sit down and listen to a cover I did of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and he became really quiet. That was when he started to take my music seriously. Continue reading