New Delhi: Internationally acclaimed Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab, whose songs were on former US president Barack Obama’s playlist and who performed with Anoushka Shankar at the 2023 Grammy Awards in February, is in the centre of an identity storm. She took to Twitter to question why people of colour have been reduced to their “roots” or “heritage”.
“Pakistani singer arooj aftab…… Urdu singer arooj aftab….. arooj Aftab’s amazing Urdu singing… like. It’s fine I guess? But can a person of color musician ever just get to be without this tag to whatever someone else is presuming is our root or heritage,” she tweeted on 26 May.
The response has opened a proverbial can of worms with many accusing her of wanting to shed her Pakistani roots. One particularly vicious commentator called her out for her “silly self absorbed victim complex”. In the wake of the swift and sudden backlash, Aftab had to turn off her replies on the social media platform.
But by then, she had been labelled “anti Pakistan” by her detractors. In response, Aftab had to explain to the audience that her original tweet was not about the erasure of her roots, but about her identity from a geographic and linguistic context.
“… I am proud of my roots and heritage deeply and I am very protective of them. This tweet was about western prejudices,” she wrote in the replies to her original tweet.
Aftab has been making waves in the international music scene over the last few years. Though her discography spans different genres, Aftab has garnered praise for her work as a Sufi artist. Mohabbat, released in 2021, is recognised as her breakthrough song. It’s a rendition of a Ghazal penned by Punjab-based poet Hafeez Hoshiyarpuri.
She became the first Pakistani singer to win a Grammy for Best Global Music Performance in 2022.
Some Pakistani celebrities like filmmaker Ali Raza have come out in her defence saying that her comments have been misconstrued.
“No Paki would call her OMG Arooj Aftab Urdu singer stage p a rahi hay haye Allah,” Raza said as he gave examples of how artists with a global superstar stature are not referred to with their geographic labels. “Drake is Canadian, I don’t see Whites calling him amazing Canadian singer Drake,” he added.
Aftab’s stance on labels and expectations is not new. In an interview with Washington Post last year, she said “People expect me to perform a representation of where I’m from and my culture and for me. I don’t necessarily want to do that.”
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)
Source: The Print