Arooj Aftab’s new album, Night Reign

Arooj Aftab came on to most people’s radar with her third solo album, Vul­ture Prince, in 2021. Mar­ry­ing ele­ments of exper­i­men­tal jazz and tra­di­tion­al folk music from her native Pak­istan with the sort of urbane pop that the likes of Sade and Enya con­coct, the result was a plain­tive and evoca­tive explo­ration of her attempt to deal with the death of her younger brother. 

That album’s suc­cess and the Gram­my it won her gen­er­at­ed sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure around a fol­low-up album so Aftab took a time out to form a trio with the jazz pianist Vijay Iyer and the mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist Shahzad Ismai­ly. And in 2023 they released their Love In Exile album.

Iyer and Ismai­ly reap­pear here on her fourth solo album, Night Reign, where they’re joined by Gyan Riley, son of min­i­mal­ist pio­neer Ter­ry, the harpist Maeve Gilchrist and Elvis Costel­lo, who makes a cameo on, improb­a­bly, the Wurlitzer.

Ini­tial­ly, the album was going to focus exclu­sive­ly on set­ting the poet­ry of Mah Laqa Bai Chan­da, the first woman to pub­lish poet­ry in Urdu, to music. But in the end, just two of the album’s tracks are set to Bai’s words. And instead, she wise­ly decides to open the album up to give it a broad­er, more cos­mopoli­tan hue. 

So that, even more so than with her pre­vi­ous album, Night Reign moves with ease from Eng­lish into Urdu and back, and back and forth between the worlds of jazz, pop and tra­di­tion­al Pak­istani folk music. 

What’s so sat­is­fy­ing about the expe­ri­ence of lis­ten­ing to the album is the sense you get of its ‘uni­ty of com­po­si­tion’, which Aftab achieves thanks to her dual roles as vocal­ist and pro­duc­er. The 20 years and more she’s spent per­fect­ing her craft in both guis­es allows her to meld those poten­tial­ly dis­parate worlds and fuse them togeth­er into an organ­ic and cap­ti­vat­ing whole. 

Night Reign exudes appar­ent­ly effort­less poise and is an album you can enjoy equal­ly in the inti­mate pri­va­cy of your head­phones, or on repeat, for hours, on in the background.

The boys from Pitch­fork gave it an 8.3 here

Watch the video for Raat Ki Rani here:

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