Pakistani-born, New York-based songwriter and vocalist Arooj Aftab took the stage with few words, letting silence cover the crowd as Bhrigu Sahni delicately tuned his guitar. As he began to pluck the bright melody of the first song, Aftab let loose an intricate voice that filled up all corners of UNC Asheville’s Lipinksy Auditorium.
Speaking to the crowd, Aftab explained that the songs came from reinterpreted Sufi poetry set to music. One, which she performed in English, was a translation from Sufi mystic Rumi: “Last night my love was beautiful, like the moon … brighter than the sun.” Although the lines were simple, the message came through clearly in the feeling of the music.
Jörn Bielfeldt played the rhythm box. Responding to the unique path of each song, he used an array of percussive instruments from drum sticks to locust bean pods. At one point he removed his shoes and played the box with the backs of his heels.
After the show, Bielfeldt said that most of the performance was spontaneous improv of songs the group had performed together before. Collaborating for the past five years, the three artists have a palpable connection on stage, and although each is pursuing an individual musical path, they come together whenever they can. “We want people to listen to the music and leave happier, more in touch,” said Bielfeldt. “Isn’t that what music is for? Changing people?”
In the spirit of transformation, Aftab started the initiative Rebuild Pakistan during that country’s 2010 flood crisis. Aftab’s organization has collaborated with fellow musicians and the Human Development Fund to promote a vision of unity and active healing for her home nation. Aftab also works as assistant editor and musical supervisor for MTV’s new program, Rebel Music. The six-part series follows young people who are using creativity and artistic passion to change the world.
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