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Global Music Column – March

Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily – Love in Exile

Since her 2015 debut Bird Under Water, Pakistani American singer Arooj Aftab has honed the delicate cadence of her voice in increasingly minimal settings. On that album, she embellished yearning Urdu poetry with traditional instrumentation such as the sitar and bansuri, along with drums and cajon; 2018’s follow-up Siren Islands experimented with a layered synth backing. Her breakthrough album, 2021’s Grammy-winning Vulture Prince, reduced the percussion further, instead opting for the ornamentation of violin, harp and double bass.

On her latest record, Love in Exile, Aftab collaborates with jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and synth player Shahzad Ismaily, balancing her melismatic voice between entirely percussion-less, almost ambient soundscapes. The trio formed in 2018 and developed their sound through improvisatory live shows. That same intuitive process informs Love in Exile, with each of its seven compositions building undulating textures as if establishing an onstage atmosphere: the opening three minutes of To Remain/To Return features Ismaily’s keening synth trills and Iyer’s slowly developing piano phrase without a whisper of Aftab’s voice; Sharabi luxuriates in creating a 13-minute dark and angular synth palette.

Read the review in the Guardian.

[This piece was published on 03/03/23]

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