Arooj Aftab hits with unadulterated, crushing emotion

At some concerts you, as a journalist, don’t want to take notes at all, so as not to miss a second and to be able to record every note, every rest, every string touch and every sigh. The Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab gave such a concert with her trio on Tuesday evening in the De Duif concert church in Amsterdam. A dream.

But in dreams, the details quickly disappear, leaving raw, hard-to-describe emotion. After this concert, in addition to that raw emotion, everything lingers for a long time: how Aftab’s voice got better and better and she mastered the acoustics of De Duif; how Maeve Gilchrist’s harp sounded like taps against crystal glasses, then rough like an electric guitar; how bassist Petros Klampanis not only made his massive strings vibrate, but could also whistle along with love; how Aftab awkwardly threw roses into the audience, and how intensely she played the music of her second album Vulture Prince managed to build together.

That music, which earned her the first Pakistani a Grammy last year, is not fleeting anyway. It was marked by the death of her brother Maher. She said in last year NRC that thanks to that dark veil of mourning, she had sung it “at about 40 percent.” She now sang the other sixty percent—sometimes in endless, goosebump-worthy heights that you wouldn’t expect from her low, slightly hoarse voice—and it only got harder.

Heaven and earth

Aftab (37), glass of red wine in hand, all in black with a long coat with a large collar, joked away her shyness between songs – humor heals. „We play songs by Vulture Prince, so I dressed like that too.” Laughing: “I don’t eat dead people. Not yet.” She kept her concert with both feet on the ground.

Also read the interview: ‘You hear the darkness in my voice’

Maybe it was the beautiful tall, bright church, but there wasn’t a song that Aftab and her musicians didn’t lift to heaven, to come back to earth and move the rare silent and phoneless audience with it. Especially the versatility of Gilchrist’s harp gave Aftab’s music unprecedented depth. Songs like the deeply sad ‘Diya Hai’, the meditative ‘Saans Lo’, her wonderfully beautiful ‘Mohabbat’ and also the drawn-out encore got more and more layers in their swirling, imaginative interplay. The instruments sometimes went against each other, then together, apart, rhythmically, melodically, and at times so full that it seemed impossible for Aftab to squeeze in between them. Sometimes she seemed to keep her distance for a while, after which she managed to weave herself into it naturally.

Grief exhausts, but it also transcends language. Somewhere about ten meters between her lips and my ears, the sometimes age-old Persian poetry was translated into unadulterated, crushing emotion in her lyrics.

Aftab at the Le Guess Who? festival last year:

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