On Vulture Prince
, Pakistani vocalist, composer and producer Arooj Aftab is an expert at taking centuries-old forms of expression and evolving them to suit the present moment, creating something that’s never existed before but that’s inextricably bound to the past. She grew up listening to Urdu ghazals, a South Asian form of music and poetry that meditates on pain, longing, loss and separation and their complex relationship with love and beauty. In 2018, when she was partially through the process of making her third album — a record she’d originally intended to be more energetic and dance-oriented than her past work — her brother and close friend passed away.
She trimmed and shifted her existing material, and in the midst of her grief, turned back to the ghazal. She cut back on nearly all of the drums, and in their place, stringed instruments reign: acoustic guitar, stand-up bass, violin and harp, the record’s sonic centerpiece next to Aftab’s force of a voice. The result isn’t just the sound of pure grief, as one might initially expect, but an expansive and almost aching beauty where death and life, pain and joy, are in eternal and inseparable conversation with one another. This range of beauty that exists on Vulture Prince
may feel like a bittersweet friend to the many of us who’ve wrestled with the depths of grief and made it out on the other side. I, for one, find it a near miracle on each and every listen that she was able to encapsulate it. — Amileah Sutliff