The Solidarity Index

Going Up Together — with Arooj Aftab

May 10, 2023 Arooj Aftab Season 1 Episode 3
The Solidarity Index
Going Up Together — with Arooj Aftab
Show Notes Transcript

“It is literally a choice… to not hide… to choose the more difficult route and challenge the norm.”  – Arooj Aftab

Welcome to Episode 3 of The Solidarity Index! Join host Zahyr Lauren aka The Artist L. Haz as they reunite with longtime friend Arooj Aftab to talk creative kinship, pursuing dreams, art as self healing, and limitless fashion.

Lauded by Time, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NPR, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Barack Obama, and others, Arooj’s neo-Sufi blend of jazz, electronica, folk, Hindustani classical, indie pop, and minimalism has been referred to as a "musical revelation,” and made her the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy and perform at the awards. She has also performed at celebrated venues like Barbican, The Lincoln Center, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, The MET, and The Broad, and festivals like Coachella, Glastonbury, Newport Folk Fest, Pitchfork, Montreal Jazz Fest, and more. She has composed for films and games, worked with renowned global artists, and contributed editing to Emmy winning documentary Armed With Faith. Signed with Verve Records, she is currently touring the world with new album Love In Exile – a collaboration with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily.

Keep up with Arooj on Instagram: @aroojaftab

Man Kunto Maula' off Bird Under Water, 'Mohabbat' off Vulture Prince
Word*Rock*& Sword: A Festival Exploration of Women’s Lives—All Are Welcome
John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar
Phil Gomez, Moses Sumney


Tune in to THE SOLIDARITY INDEX on your favorite podcast platform, and keep up with us on Instagram. Sign up for The Solidarity Index newsletter to receive new episodes direct to your inbox.

THE SOLIDARITY INDEX podcast is produced by State of Mind Media
Hosted by Zahyr Lauren aka The Artist L.Haz
Created and produced by Jen Bell, Shalva Wise, Stina Hamlin, and Zahyr Lauren Audio editing and production by Stina Hamlin
Audio mix by Matt Gundy
Logo and identity design by Marwan Kaabour
Art direction, website and additional design by Jen Bell at Studio Analogy

Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou
Released on Common Groove (2023)
All proceeds from download and streaming go to the Dr. Maya Angelou Foundation

THE SOLIDARITY INDEX EPISODE 3: Going Up Together – with Arooj Aftab

[Waves surging then crashing]

Here we go! Top of the morning. No, for me – my morning. Your, your 1:00... What's up??

My morning too because I just woke up, so…

Yes, I love it. I love it. I love it. Good morning… good morning, Arooj!

MUSIC: Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:00:26]
The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. No one of us can be free – until everybody is free. Free… Free.

ZAHYR [00:00:41]
Welcome to The Solidarity Index, a gathering place for trailblazing artists from around the world where we share experiences of solidarity and liberation through creative practice, and welcome each other into freedom struggles from Palestine to Brooklyn to Berlin and beyond.

Zahyr Lauryn here, super excited to be in conversation today with my good friend Arooj Aftab. Arooj has been out here making music that wins Grammy's and gets featured on Obama's summer playlist. She's about to tour the world with a new album, Love in Exile – an incredible collaboration with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily.

Thanks so much for joining as we talk creative kinship, healing the holes in our hearts, and refusing to hide.

Until Everybody Is Free  beat [00:01:29]

Man, I'm like too hype. I've been looking forward to this forever. It's a good excuse to just harass you and be all in your business – so thank you.  [LAUGHTER]

AROOJ [00:01:43]
Yeah, I had no idea that it was this legit.  [LAUGHTER]  I was like, What do you wanna do... You wanna have a conversation? You wanna call me? And then we'll just – But this is like, amazing.

ZAHYR [00:01:56]
It's legit my G. Our production team is like, outrageous. They're so incredible. So I'm super excited to be talking to you.

My name is Zahyr. I am the host of The Solidarity Index. I am caramel complected. I've got glasses on and a nose ring. I have on a black bandana, headphones. I am sitting in Duwamish territory in Seattle, Washington. My pronouns are they|them. And I'm super excited to be here with you, Arooj.

Wow, that's amazing.  [ZAHYR: Tight right?]  [LAUGHTER]  Nice. Okay, let me try to do even a little bit of that. Uh, my name is Arooj Aftab. I am sitting in my brownstone apartment in New York. I am a singer and a composer from Pakistan, but like, you know, found a home in New York. Um, I am a light skinned brown person, my pronouns are she|her. And I'm just out sitting here speaking into a microphone, looking at my homie Zahyr after a really long time.

ZAHYR [00:03:14]
It's been a while. It's been a while. Let's go! You know, the first thing I wanted to talk with you about is how we even came to be as homies. I feel like that was, like, so long ago and it was so organic. I feel like the first time I met you, I was just like, WOW. And then I learned about the gift of your voice and your musicality, your abilities as a musician. And then I obsessively listened to Bird Under Water. You already know this – Bird Under Water was my album. I mean, was it your first one?


Okay. And the song – am I pronouncing this right: Man Kunto Maula?

AROOJ [00:03:56]
Yeah, that's pretty great.

Okay, that song was on repeat for days on end, and so I just wanted to share a little bit between us about our friendship over these years and why we are fam.

Yeah, I was thinking about that too. We met at the Word Rock Sword like after hang – or, is that what that was? What we were doing at that place?  [ZAHYR: Yeah I think so!]  [LAUGHTER]  Um, yeah, I remember seeing you and just being like, you know, this person has great style and, like, is just kind of sitting there, like, in this very particular way. I was like, I think I need to be friends with with that person. So we just started talking and you started listening to my music, which I was really surprised by. And you really liked it and we became friends. But I remember you were so grateful for the music in a very, like, graceful way.

ZAHYR [00:04:59]
Yeah, man, I'll never forget that. Just hearing your music and hearing your voice for the first time.

Man Kunto Maula  by Arooj Aftab [00:05:06]

Your music is the soundtrack to, I would say, my first 3 or 4 years of drawing.

Yeah, I was going to say – When we met, had you already started drawing? Or were you just thinking about it and you were you were, like, still a lawyer?

I was definitely still a lawyer. And I think at that point it was still being a lawyer and doing kind of, you know, regular sized pieces of paper doodling. And then I developed the hard core artistic practice that I have today. But that period of my life – your music is the soundtrack of that. And sometimes I would listen to your songs for days and just be like so steeped into the music.

AROOJ [00:06:39]
I really loved that, you know, because when you shared some of your drawings with me and you were telling me that you were listening to my music, I was like, first of all – that just makes sense.  [ZAHYR: Right?]  That's what people should be doing, you know?  [ZAHYR: Right!]  [LAUGHTER]  I was like, That's really great. Um, and then the drawings were so awesome, you know, and like, meticulous in a really particular way. And like the macro – like the micro turning into the macro was so, it was just like you were doing this thing that, like – in a different medium that I do. So there was like such a kinship that the two things had and I was so, like, amazed to kind of see it, you know, as a tangible practice.

Yeah, man, There is an unfolding that happens with your music that I feel like, like you're saying – the kinship of that, and the unfolding of my art, visually, it just goes together. I feel like your music is the blood of what I try to do visually. So, you know, I think we're just meant to be in the same universe and the same time paralleling each other in practice in these ways.

AROOJ [00:07:52]
I agree. I agree.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So as you know, this is The Solidarity Index. And so our main focus is solidarity around the world between people who are oppressed, between folks in struggle, understanding the stories of different cultures, different aspects of people's lives. And to me, that kind of gets made into something bigger than it has to be when it gets intellectualized. At the root of all of this, to me, is love. So for me as a Black American and you as a person from Pakistan – and I know you were born in Saudi Arabia, and you've been all over the world, but our cultures, I think… there are so many tentacles that come together when it comes to Black folks and South Asian folks, but at the root of that is the love that we share between each other. So I'm glad that we're able to share how our practices are kind of similar, because to me it starts with the way that I love you and the way that you love me. That is solidarity.

AROOJ [00:09:00]
Right. Yeah, I agree.

So I wanted to ask you, speaking of cultural influences… I've heard you talk about Coltrane, Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, and how they have been influenced by music from South Asia. And I wanted to share something that I read with you: When Alice Coltrane was talking about her influences from South Asia, she talked about John Coltrane and the fact that he had a great interest in Eastern philosophy, spirituality, music, and that his melding of spiritual and musical exploration spoke to his belief in a universal music structure, one that looked beyond ethnic delineations. And I wanted to hear your thoughts on that, in terms of cultural influences in music.

AROOJ [00:09:47]
Yeah, I listened to Coltrane when I was studying jazz in college and Miles and Stan Getz and those guys, and kind of definitely like did my time, you know, in that realm, learning the solos and stuff like that and, you know, learning about the fact that like, he – you know, he met those guys, he met Ravi Shankar, right, the main person who, like, brought Indian classical music to the west and, you know, blew everybody's minds with the, the ragas and the sort of rhythmic qualities of, of that eastern music that, you know, and… and like, one thing that happened was that the jazz world absorbed it really quickly because, you know, drugs and modes – the modal scales of jazz and the ragas, they kind of, their function is so similar. Um, and it's literally like the same kind of, you know – and so, so I think that's kind of how these guys gravitated towards that and like ended up, so much of their music ended up being influenced by that. It's also because of the spiritual nature and the rhythmic nature of, I think, the – what was appealing about South Asian classical music to these guys was that they were looking for a ground, you know, in the crazy freaking 50's and 60's jazz world, if you know what I mean… It was getting – it was really wild, you know. And a lot of people kind of went towards spiritualism and Buddhism and stuff like that. And these guys kind of gravitated that way, which doesn't – which feels, it's kind of like… it feels very cyclical in that sense, where it's like – they were the pioneers of jazz. And jazz, as we know, has always endured in a way, you know, and it's always been like this vessel of artistic expression and social commentary. And then the greatest, um, sort of jazz musicians, Miles and Coltrane, kind of like were, you know, influenced by Indian music. And then here we are kind of, as a brown person, as a South Asian person, then going and studying jazz. And it's kind of, you know what I mean? It's like, it's kind of like a circle in a way.

ZAHYR [00:12:13]
Beautiful. And so what struck me about Coltrane is this idea of a universal music structure. And you spoke to this, the ragas and jazz being kind of like the same – in the same family. And to me, I'm like, you know, if you translate culture and music to the similar humanity of folks across the globe, I feel like you can use music to make an argument for universal solidarity.

Yeah, I think so. I think music definitely is one of those things that is a gift to the world, a very underrated gift, that – it's very healing, if anything. I don't know that it like bridges borders and ends wars because we have like so much nonsense going on, and we have so many musicians who just feel like because they're musicians they get to be apolitical and they're just like, Oh no we just play our little tunes, you know. And it's like – and it's like, what the F man? For example, when I recently won a Grammy, suddenly – suddenly it wasn't, it wasn't just like like I won a Grammy. It was like Pakistan won a Grammy. You know, like I suddenly became the representative of this whole entire nation. And that was just like, whoa, I didn't ask for that. You know? It was like really intense. You know, everybody was like hyper claiming me as, you know, the first Pakistani person to win a Grammy. It's so intense in a way that music can be this – like at its best, I think outside of all the political pressure that we put onto music and musicians, I think it's just all false in a way. But it's also because I'm like old and bored and tired, you know? It's also because I'm not in my 20's as the crazy lunatic activist I was, I'm like done with Earth and its politics, you know? But I really just think that like, at its best, music has a very healing power in in today's climate. I mean, it has definitely fueled protests and has lended itself to many revolutions, but at its best it's not really doing anything is what my current opinion is, except for just being a nice healing power. Does that make any sense?

ZAHYR [00:14:39]
That makes a lot of sense and I'm thinking about it. That's that's fascinating to me, and I think it's a good hop into your newest album, Love in Exile, which is a collaboration – and please correct me if I say these names wrong – with Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily.

You got it. Vijay Iyer and Shahzad Ismaily.

Got it. And when you talk about healing, you know, this album to me is a deep, deep healing album. It took me to different planes. It's something that I feel like I could just lay down and dream to, lay down and imagine to, lay down and just be protected by and healed by. It's kind of an album that washes over you. And when your voice comes in on these tracks, it's just such an incredible engulfing of sound. And so I wanted to just thank you for putting that out with these folks. It's an incredible body of work… And I'm wondering why you named it Love in Exile.

AROOJ [00:15:46]
Well, thank you for listening to it. The love in exile thing for me, it's kind of what I feel because I feel like I had to leave where I was and go to a new place, not just to learn music because I wanted to communicate musically, with the language, but also I wanted to create, you know, and like – where I was was not a good environment for creating the things that I wanted to create. And so for me, just leaving in that way, you know, to go somewhere really far that you don't know anybody or anything about the risk and the stakes are so high because you're leaving behind like everything that you know and everyone that you love and all this sort of like social connection, to go and sort of nurture and foster this thing that you don't even really know how to express, you know? So for me, it feels like I've always been thinking about the self exile in order to love myself and the thing that I love, which is music, and to nurture it and to grow it. And so for me, the whole act of being feels kind of like looking for love in an exile state, to the point where it no longer really feels that harsh. It doesn't really feel like an exile anymore because you've basically just moved and created a new home, right? Musically and spiritually, I think that's kind of always my theme, the love and exile situation. And then, you know, it's kind of like I've never really done an album where I've so boldly like… being in the west, where there is white supremacy, and putting out an album with three brown people on the cover and our crazy names, you know, like – we've always been sort of told that that's not going to work, or people are not going to gravitate towards that or they're not going to – they will be intimidated by the inability to say your names, blah, blah, blah, blah.

You know what I mean? And it's like so much of this sort of inbuilt fear and nonsense because of where we are and how, like, we are constantly othered in this place that we try to hide it, you know, and in this – in Love in Exile we're not hiding it. But we also don't want to talk about it. I don't want people to be like, Oh look at those brown people – look at those South Asians who got together and made an album, like- I don't want, like the music is just music. And the music is just three people who have like decades of of experience and and a wealth of talent, you know, and a lot of hard work put into cultivating like a very personal sound, that are doing this thing together. It's not like - it's not a South Asian album, right? In that way, the title fit as well in a subtle way to kind of nod at, you know, the boldness... The tired boldness of this thing where it's just like, Yeah we're here. These are our names. This is a collaboration. We're not ashamed of it. We're not hiding it. And it's also not an Indian album, you know? It's like a great piece of music. It's a gift. It's high art.

ZAHYR [00:18:51]
Yes, yes, yes. Yo, I second all of that. It's a gift. It is high art. And like I said, I felt like I had a blanket on and a cape because it is so, imagine like – I'm like, I'm invincible out here. I'm about to draw these pictures and just have an incredible life while I listen to this album. Yeah, it's brilliant.

It's so dramatic. We're so – it's so like main character, you know? It's like you put that on and you go walk to get a coffee and you feel crazy. You feel like...

Everything – everything is transformed when you're listening to this album. Everything. So I so appreciate that. And you mentioned that what kind of ushered you all into creation of this album was a feeling. And so I'm interested to know how you get to that place where you feel comfortable enough, because in my assessment – and I'm not an artist in the way that you all are – but in my assessment, collaboration requires a level of vulnerability and like, how do you get there to the point where you're like, I can be completely open with these two individuals in a way that allows us to create, to bring something into the world that has never been heard before? That's a vulnerable space. How do you feel about that?

AROOJ [00:20:11]
Yeah, I think it's really rare to connect with people who make you feel comfortable. It is actually a lifelong search for the right people, the right collaborators. It's – it's really, really difficult to find like-minded people who are willing to give you space to shine, actually contribute to your shine. People who also know how to listen, people who are also able to take up space and and kind of, you know, like – the whole dance, the whole dance. Really evolved and emotionally aware and highly skilled, highly knowledgeable kind of person to see the other person. And then for us to do the dance and to do it so that – in a way that like everybody is elevated at the end, you know what I mean? The idea that we're all going up together kind of thing. That sense of oneness. It's not just even that we're all going up together, it's like we're all just one thing. It's really hard to do that. And I don't know… When we played together for the first time, we just were shocked. There was such a deep listening going on and there was also such a like – there was such a sense of confidence, you know. Because sometimes you can get really in your head and be like, Oh no I don't know – I don't know if I should come in here. I don't know if he's done. I don't know if somebody else wants to take the solo. What should I do? Oh, I don't know if they know that we should go where I'm taking them. You know, like you can get really crazy when the energy is making you feel that way also. And when the energy is kind of all good, it's all love —then you're doing whatever you want and everybody's going wherever and we're all going together and it's great. And that's what happened in that show. We were like, Whoa, you know… We need to do this again.

Dope, dope. I love this idea that deep listening creates an elevated energy that everyone kind of just moves with so that you don't have to say anything. Yeah.

Exactly. And people who don't witness that – I just feel like that should be the thing we're all looking for, you know? That's the key, really. The other things are not the keys, you know?

ZAHYR [00:22:29]
Right. Right. Powerful. I'm thinking about my practice as well in terms of the elevation of all of the parts and it being seen as one. In every piece there are different segments, different sections that may look differently but in my meditation, um, I try to draw things where people get a sense of feeling in all these different parts, but in the end it is one piece and there's an emotional context. There's an energetic elevation to the piece as a whole that is created by all of these beautiful parts that are in synchronicity with each other. And so I love that, what you said.

It's like what you did to – where you were like, I want to keep building this. I mean, first you were sort of doing it and you had your job and then you were like, I want to do this… and not my job. Right? Back then, you were like – and then you were like, I need to go somewhere else to do this then, if I – if that's what I want to do, like, I can't do this here. And you did the same thing where you moved and you cultivated a space where you could do the thing that you really love to do. And in doing that, you made choices that made you love yourself, you know?  [ZAHYR: Right?]  Like leaving the goddamn gig and choosing yourself.  [ZAHYR: Yes.]  And look at what's happening… it's like amazing, you know, when you – when you live in your truth, right? Just shamelessly without any apology, the thing ends up being successful, right?  [ZAHYR: Right, right.]  As – no matter how crazy or a stupid idea anyone will tell you that it is, you know, it's like, That is a really dumb idea that you're just going to do these drawings.  [LAUGHTER]  You know? Or that you're going to just be a singer, you know… No matter what they say, it ends up succeeding because it's you living your truth and choosing to love yourself.

ZAHYR [00:24:31]
Absolutely. It's a trip, too, because the dumb idea comments always come from scarcity in this context of capitalism. So it's always – people are always gonna be like, Oh well, you know, that's not going to – or, you're not going to be able to survive this, this, that, and the third. But it's always coming from even outside of them. And they've been so embedded with this idea that if they don't take the track that this system that I call white delusion is perpetuating onto them... If you do not take the route that you're being told to take, then it's almost like there is no universe that exists. Because as artists we know there's a universe that exists, because we're creating universes through our art, right? But if you're not doing that, then you're stuck in this subscription that has been given to you and forced upon you. And so anybody else who's not subscribing then is not just dumb, but like low key a threat. Yeah.

AROOJ [00:25:31]
They – they pay for this system, you know what I mean? Like, they've incentivized heterosexual marriage. They get massive tax breaks, like they – they've created this system where it benefits a certain type of living in a weird kind of way, but it's actually all horrible and nobody really gets it, you know. And the other stuff just feels really scary and threatening because people living in their truth is also threatening to other people, because I feel like they know that they're not. The system isn't made for us, so it's much harder.

ZAHYR [00:26:02]
Right, right, right. But the spirit elevation and the love that comes… Because I'll be 100% honest with you, when I was an attorney – there wasn't a lot of self love. I mean, it was miserable. And I think it was miserable in part because of who I am as a Black, gender expansive person and all the whatever that that carries. But also… watching my people, in the practice of that job, suffering in so many different ways all the time without an outlet… Man, almost took me out of here, literally. And so then discovering the art and feeling that relief and feeling that elevation and then meeting people who are also artists and being like, Oh snap, like – this is my crew. These are the people who ask no questions. You are just there with them and y'all are all trying to elevate together. It's not like, Oh well, you know, even how do you identify or how – what is this? What is that? What are your beliefs around…? You are all trying to elevate together and you have the understanding that creation is the way to self love. At least for me, that was the truth. Continuing to create was the way that I actually learned to love myself and to develop an identity that was outside of this kind of capitalist construct.

AROOJ [00:27:25]
Yeah, that's the thing that I completely understand. And that's why our work shares such a kinship because I never was writing songs for them to be on the radio or to win any Grammy. I was writing them as a form of self-help, like self-soothing, you know, um… Because I wanted to hear, like, that's the thing that I would want to hear so that I could heal my whatever it is that – the the holes in my heart, you know? And then for so many years, yeah, it was like, What are you making this really sort of like, quiet, gentle, like – like weird  sort of slow music…  [LAUGHTER]

ZAHYR [00:28:08]
Love hearing you talk about it like – Why are you making this weird–?  Like yo, you're hilarious.   [LAUGHTER]

AROOJ [00:28:11]
…that no one's listening to and you can't jig your foot to this, like, What is this thing that you're doing that's taking you like – it's so, it's like, you know, you're like, you're just sitting there, you're kind of taking so long to make this thing that has so many little moving parts, like, What are you doing? And no one's really listening to this. And I was – and I've always just been like, Yeah, so what?

ZAHYR [00:28:33]
It's for me!

It's for me.

You know, everyone is listening to it now, and the healing that comes for all the rest of us because you chose to heal yourself.


Yeah. It's deep, man. And I think that's the beauty of it, because I always tell people whether they liked my art or not, I'm still going to be doing it. So yeah.

AROOJ [00:28:56]
Exactly. And when it when it – and when you're doing it and, you know, like when we look at it, like in this sort of… even like now that it's all this large it's like super large scale, and there's something really peaceful about it as well. And more and more people are looking at it. And I just want to see it everywhere. I want to see it like tiled in subways and stuff.  [ZAHYR: Word. That's a dream of mine.]  You know, it's just healing, you know? Like even Obama was listening to Mohabbat and probably was like, Uhh, I'm sad.

ZAHYR [00:29:27]
Obama! Yo… you were on President Barack Obama's summer playlist, my G.

You think he listens to the songs?

Yes! Absolutely. He absolutely –

He does. He's like - he's a music guy, you know.

ZAHYR [00:29:44]
I want to let you know personally how proud I am of you, dude. Because you are someone who has accomplished all these wild, incredible things, but to me – the most incredible thing is the way you carry your humanity. And I'm just so proud to be your friend because you didn't won Grammy’s, you didn't done – you didn't won a Grammy, you didn't done all this stuff... The ability to maintain humanity through the rise is something that I really admire. And I just love you as a person. And I got to say, when I asked you to perform at my first artistic show in Brooklyn and you said yes… that was one of the greatest days of my life. Because your voice is so aligned with the art, as we've already talked about. But knowing that you would be there in person like – it was, that was so special to me, man. I'm just so grateful for you and the fact that you said yes and you came through with the most beautiful music I'd ever heard. I'm always gonna be a fan.

AROOJ [00:30:45]
I mean, that's the type of thing – you get to be a part of something like that after a lot of trust and friendship and community building, you know… where you're not just being invited to perform for an audience, but it's actually really like a real thing. My friendship with you is what – and your trust in me – is what allowed you to invite me into that beautiful, unbelievable space.

Word. Word. Yeah. It was like a huge family reunion, and you were the cousin that came through and blew us all away with your with your voice, along with the other brilliant performers that we had that night.

Mohabbat by Arooj Aftab [00:31:29]

I find you to be incredibly fashionable. Every time I see you, I'm just like, Wow, where did this fit come from, though? So I'm wondering what your process is to get dressed for your performances... Because in my opinion, your entire look goes beyond this kind of forced gender binary. It is very you. It is very true to your spirit and your energy. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Yeah… I feel like – I feel like there isn't anything that I kind of do anymore that is in any way in a binary, you know. And in terms of fashion, it's been hard, it's been a struggle, you know, for people to understand - for some reason, people - it's like, it's so boring that people still don't understand that there's something in between a suit and a dress. Like, there's a whole spectrum, you know! What – like, what is wrong with you guys? You know, we're living in in this in this world where, like, everybody and all the Gen Z people are like out in the streets and they don't want to do anything binary. Everything's fluid. Everything's just one whole, like, organism and and everything is on its head. It's supposed to have been that way for a while. We've been waiting for this moment. And then in the fashion situation, it's still like everybody's having a brain seizure when you're like, I don't identify with these certain styles. Also the ever evolving body type and stuff, you know, and the silhouette. I got a stylist who really didn't get it… It was really – it was a very strange experience, and it kind of freaked me out. But then I was like looking – looking a lot at Moses Sumney, and I was like, Who is his stylist? And then I found his stylist, this guy named Phil Gomez, and I hit him up. I had a meeting with him and he's just like, amazing. He was like, I got I got it. I've got you. And he's been styling me for the last two years. So everything that you're seeing me wear is coming from Phil. So he is like my my savior, you know? And I'm really grateful for him because he's like, he's elevating the silhouette… he's also not taking my femininity away because that's what people do when you say, I want to wear, like, androgynous clothing… they think you're just talking about like, I don't know, you know… Like, they're like – Oh she doesn't want to be, like… If you're not in a dress then you do not – you are not allowed to be female anymore, you know? Which is so F'd up. And then if you are in a dress, you're not allowed to have swag. You're not like, you know – if you are in heels, you're not allowed to, like, walk like with with a vibe or whatever, you know what I mean? It's all just like it's like, I can't believe we're still talking about this.

ZAHYR [00:35:09]
Word. I love that. I'm so happy to know that you're with someone who you’re comfortable with and who, like you said, who gets it. And yo, at this point I would rather the external struggle from people who I know are just not advanced than the internal struggle of feeling constantly uncomfortable in what I have on or, you know, my body slumping because of what I'm being forced to wear. And so I take your point when you say, you know, it can be a struggle to be different… But man, I feel like we're all better off when when we release the internal struggle of not acting in line with who we are.

MUSIC: Man Kunto Maula by Arooj Aftab  [00:36:03]

I just want to – just thank you, dude. I know we're homies, but being homies doesn't mean, you know, someone has the time or wants to carve the time out of their schedule. So I'm just thankful that you were able to kind of carve a few minutes out just to chop shop with me.

No, of course. And Zahyr, like – you have no idea how much I miss you in New York. I wish you were here, but I'm also very happy for you and for everything that you've done. And hopefully I'll see you soon in person. But also yeah, thank you for having me… thanks for thinking of me for this. This was great.

Word. Thank you, boss. I miss you too a ton, man. There's a kindred spirit in us both that I think just needs to be together more, period.  [AROOJ: Yeah.]  So, so you know I love you and I always will, so I just – yeah, soon come. We'll figure it out.

MUSIC: Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:38:35]
The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. No one of us can be free – until everybody is free… Until everybody is free.

Thank you, Arooj, for sharing your healing with the world. The way you share your gift has blessed everyone from artists like me to the Obamas. Let's keep lifting everyone up together.

Y'all check the lineup at If Arooj comes to your city – don't miss the chance to immerse in the music live! It is high art. It's a gift to the world.

Reminder to check out our show notes for links and information on the people and topics we touched on in this episode.

Thank you for listening to The Solidarity Index. If you like it, please share it! And follow us wherever you listen to podcasts.

This podcast is a production of State of Mind Media, created and produced by Jen Bell, Shalva Wise, Stina Hamlin, and me - Zahyr Lauren. Audio Editing and production by Stina Hamlin. Audio mix by Matt Gundy. Logo and identity design by Marwan Kaabour. Art direction, website and additional design by Jen Bell at Studio Analogy. Our theme song – Until Everybody Is Free, by Bella Cuts – is out everywhere you listen to music. All proceeds from streaming and downloads go to The Doctor Maya Angelou Foundation.

This episode features the Grammy Award winning song Mohabbat from the album Vulture Prince by Arooj Aftab, and Man Kunto Maula from Arooj's first album, Bird Under Water. I'm your host, Zahyr Lauren, aka The Artist L. Haz. You can follow us on Instagram – @TheSolidarityIndex – and anywhere you find podcasts. For more information head to our website at Preciate y'all for listening… Peace.

Until Everybody Is Free by Bella Cuts – featuring the voice of Maya Angelou [00:40:48]
The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. No one of us can be free – until everybody is free.

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