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HomeHealth and LifestyleArooj Aftab Knows You Love Her Sad Music. But She’s Ready for...

Arooj Aftab Knows You Love Her Sad Music. But She’s Ready for More.


Describing their collaboration on “Last Night Reprise,” a jazzy interpretation of a poem by the 13th-century Persian writer Rumi, Karpeh recalled Aftab taking the vantage of a film director, using visual cues to encourage different takes. “There’s a trust in how we approach our music,” he said of their shared approach. “It felt very free and raw.”

Aftab said Karpeh embodies her ideal player: someone who gravitates to the unique. “I search for people like that because that’s 80 percent of the thing,” she said. “There’s nothing I can write down and ask you to play if you don’t have that innate feeling.”

In Tessa Thompson, who Aftab pinged with a friendly DM on Instagram, Aftab found both a natural collaborator and a role model for navigating the business on her own terms. (She had previously met some musical members of Thompson’s family: her half sister, Zsela, and her father, Marc Anthony Thompson, a.k.a. Chocolate Genius.)

“I haven’t been around that type of person who has been in the industry a long time and still manages their mental health and knows how to be chill and natural and not overwhelmed by stuff,” Aftab said of Thompson. “Maybe I’m just a baby!”

ON A WARM April day, Aftab was ready to premiere the final cut of the “Raat Ki Rani” video. In her Brooklyn brownstone apartment, a cozy spot with a lush backyard garden, she made tea and explained the history of a rare instrument she found on eBay — the Sonica, a synthesizer in the shape of a guitar. Discussing her excitement about the video, she zoomed out to place its imagistic depiction of queer romance in a larger context. “It feels natural to me in this moment in culture for the center of desire to not be a man,” she said firmly. “We are in a time that is fluid.”

When the conversation turned to a recent Instagram post in which she announced the imminent retirement of “Mohabbat” from her set lists, Aftab laughed. “I was just [expletive] around,” she said. “Obviously nobody’s going to let me not play that anymore.” Her tone quickly turned more serious. “I’ve never had a hit, so I don’t know what to do. I guess Norah Jones still has to play ‘Come Away With Me.’” Eventually, Aftab confirmed that she still connects with the song every time she sings it, but her impulse to move forward is no joke.



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