Night Reign
(Verve Records)
Add date: 6.4.2024
Release date: 5.31.2024

Apple Music
Official Website
Verve Records

About Night Reign:

“The night,” Arooj Aftab confesses, “is my biggest source of inspiration.” By trial or intuition she’s come to understand that these still moments of cover uniquely enable healing, desire, shelter, love—each essential elements of life and living, of intimate relation to one another. Perhaps because its darkness loosens inhibitions or invites new ways of being, enticing all to leave the day as honestly as they entered it, night welcomes play and searching. So too does Aftab’s voice, its reach and intensity complimenting the sun’s departure. Night Reign (Verve, 2024) is a perfumed, public garden of renewal, peaking the senses with each composition, each turn of phrase, each modulation. Stepping away from, though never forgetting, the grief and loss that animated her Grammy Award-winning track “Mohabbat” and album Vulture Prince (Verve/New Amsterdam, 2021), on which she faced what can too quickly and easily be taken away, Aftab appears here with original music and in yet another form: as bard of everyday possibility, quietude, and life-altering romance.

It’s only appropriate that she begins Night Reign with a treatise on arrival (“Aey Nehin”), which questions when a love will appear and what has kept them so long. In and from this moment of uneasy anticipation, Aftab is guide into the shade of somber dreams and lustful fantasies, defiant flowers and regal scribes. Some of her nights are rain-swept and clean, organically opening paths to clarity; others hold low visibility and request that listeners follow her voice in order to steady their footing and heart. In this world, who knows what we will next encounter or be asked to survive. Whatever it is, be thankful that the season of her singing is perennial. Charged by the improvisational and arranging might of Aftab and featured collaborator James Francies, a revolutionary reinterpretation of the standard “Autumn Leaves” opens into previously unknown corridors. She reinvents space and time; returning, after Vulture Prince, to her chase of the moon and catching it in “Last Night Reprise” (ft. Cautious Clay, Kaki King, and Maeve Gilchrist), and channeling the exquisite whispers shared between the centuries-separated Urdu poet Mah Laqa Bai Chanda and Indian warrior Chand Bibi (“Na Gul”). Together with another longtime collaborator, Vijay Iyer, Aftab slowly, deliberately walks listeners into a girl’s blossoming world of impending power in “Saaqi,” which resolves into an arrangement of Aftab’s layered harmonies. Listeners have not heard her like this before. Her breath punctuates each entrance, reminding them that her whole body is in these songs and convincing them that they all inhabit the same time and place. Take it in and hold it close.

Then surrender. “I think I’m ready to give into your beauty and let you fall in love with me,” is the twice repeated annotation that propels “Whiskey” into a perfect sky of vulnerability and longing, while “Zameen,” originally sung by the influential Begum Akhtar and featuring Marc Anthony Thompson, stretches for the universe in order to find peace here on earth. Aftab’s invitation to listeners to “bravely journey with this music,” traverses the heavens and heart while forcing all involved to also unflinchingly gaze into the darker recesses of the night, which appear on the album in myriad ways: heavier tones, more cavernous and clandestine locations, wider ruin. Along with Moor Mother and Joel Ross, Aftab transforms “Bolo Na” from a one-time love song into a crisis of faith grounded by an insistent, brooding bassline. A pulsating “Raat Ki Rani” accompanies listeners on an unforgettable ride deep into the dimly lit city—windows down and reservations suspended. Whether the few hours of the night-blooming jasmine’s apex will bring alarm or absolution cannot be predicted but Aftab inspires only trust in the journey.

The majesty of this intrepid work is her voice in ample conspiracy toward a jagged world made softer—promising, even—by tones and tales conceived with others. “I want to make music with and for everybody,” Aftab confidently declares. Night Reign is that chance and its triumph. Join and be made anew.

About Arooj Aftab:

Transformative may not be an urgent enough word to describe the multi-hyphenate creative Arooj Aftab. Rooted to a constellation of unmappable margins and elegant refusals, she lithely moves against the weight of time and convention, honoring multiple traditions while being owned by none. She eludes categorical capture through an expansive repertoire of study, including the techniques of music production and engineering as well a sprawling vocal practice that moves with cunning intention through and alongside jazz, South Asian classical music, pop, and blues. With and from these living, mercurial forms Aftab labors in design of something that she adoringly refers to as “global soul.” She is its erudite scribe and dark chanteuse, successfully convincing audiences all over the world that genres are a lie but she should be believed.

The scale of Aftab’s musical inheritances are on brilliant display in her two most recent albums: the Grammy-nominated “masterpiece in space” Love in Exile (Verve, 2023), co-created with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily, and her fourth solo project, the incandescent Night Reign (Verve, 2024). Both are spectacles in skill and Aftab tenderly, expertly holds all of their supple elements like priceless heirlooms. Her seeking, from Sufi poets to iconic jazz vocalists, proved to her that “there was no blueprint for this thing I wanted to do,” and it’s for her embrace of risk and nonconformity that Aftab earned her position at the vanguard of creative music. Since 2021, she has delivered “rapturous performances” at major venues and international festivals such as the Newport Jazz Festival, Coachella, Roskilde Festival, Montreal Jazz Festival, Glastonbury, and twice on NPR’s Tiny Desk series; received critical praise from The New York Times, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Time Magazine; and been awarded a Grammy for “Mohabbat” in the Best Global Music Performance category and a Best New Artist nomination for her standout third album, Vulture Prince (Verve/New Amsterdam, 2021), two nominations for Love in Exile, as well as her selection as a 2023 United States Artists Fellow and recipient of the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Music.

Before and beyond Aftab’s many accolades is the instrument itself, her craveable voice, which she describes as an alchemy of “displacement, reinvention, exile, chaos, feminism and the maddening fabric of love and loss and tragedy in the world.” The calm in her vocal delivery is not comfort or consent but a persistent and expectant intensity that sears the text to countless lifetimes in as many lands. Herself the subject of various migrations, Aftab spent her adolescent years in Lahore, Pakistan, a garden-dense city and the birthplace of her music-loving parents. Her viral cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at age eighteen aided in her passage to study jazz at Berklee College of Music in Boston, while Brooklyn, New York would be her next and most fertile workshop for creation of her “world-building” music. Night Reign is both a vivid reflection of and future for that music held by the trace figurations of the city. There Aftab works with some of the most stunning musicians of our time, raising diverse concentric circles of collaboration that reflect back to her a cosmic level of musical craft and invention.

Aftab enchants with her passionate attention to the everyday and ability to indelibly shape its stratospheric poesis. She dares to express affection from the stage, a profoundly musical achievement that models not only how to do so but why. Emboldened by her fearlessness and exquisite imagination, others gather and play, proving that she’s exactly who and where she is meant to be. “For once, I’m not fighting,” she says with signature candor. “I’ve already won.”

Shana L. Redmond
New York City
January 5, 2024