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Vilcek Foundation Awards $50,000 Prize in Music to Arooj Aftab

Brooklyn-based Pakistani musician Arooj Aftab receives the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Music for her evocative songs that blend ancient Urdu poetry and jazz sensibilities.

Press Release

Mar 7, 2023 08:45 EST

Arooj Aftab receives the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Music for her evocative songs and compositions that incorporate influences ranging from semi-classical Pakistani music and Urdu poetry to jazz harmonies and experimental music. Aftab’s blend of ancient traditions and contemporary style has earned the artist important recognition, including the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Global Performance for the track Mohabbat.

The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise is a $50,000 prize awarded by the Vilcek Foundation as part of the Vilcek Foundation Prizes Program. The Vilcek Foundation prizes are awarded annually to immigrant artists and scientists whose work has had a profound impact on culture and society. The Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise specifically acknowledge artists and scientists at a pivotal point in their careers, and celebrate artists whose work demonstrates a unique insight or contribution to their field.

Born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents, Aftab spent her earliest years in Saudi Arabia before her family moved to her parents’ hometown of Lahore, Pakistan, when she was 11. At the age of 20, Aftab moved to the United States to pursue studies in music and music engineering at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Since 2009, Aftab has made New York City her home, excited about the opportunities the city presents to see and collaborate with other artists who come to the city from around the globe.

Aftab’s music bridges and transcends borders, cultures, and language. Each of her three albums to date—Bird Under Water (2014), Siren Islands (2018), and Vulture Prince (2021)—immerse listeners in soundscapes that deftly convey fundamental aspects of the human experience: love, grief, longing, and solace.  

In recognition of Aftab’s powerful voice and work, the Vilcek Foundation has published a video biography and in-depth profile of the artist on the foundation’s website: Arooj Aftab: “My music is world-building”

In 2023, the Vilcek Foundation is awarding a total of $600,000 in prizes: $350,000 to immigrant musicians, and $250,000 to immigrant scientists. Aftab receives a Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Music alongside composer and conductor Juan Pablo Contreras (b. Mexico) and songwriter and producer Ruby Ibarra (b. Philippines). Two $100,000 Vilcek Prizes in Music are also awarded in recognition of outstanding career achievement to composer Du Yun (b. China) and singer and songwriter Angélique Kidjo (b. Benin).

The purpose of the Vilcek Foundation Prizes is twofold: to provide direct support to immigrant artists and scientists, and to build public awareness of the importance of immigration for intellectual and cultural life in the United States.

Read more at the Vilcek Foundation: Arooj Aftab: “My music is world-building”

The Vilcek Foundation

The Vilcek Foundation raises awareness of immigrant contributions in the United States and fosters appreciation for the arts and sciences. The foundation was established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia. The mission of the foundation was inspired by the couple’s respective careers in biomedical science and art history. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded over $7 million in prizes to foreign-born individuals and has supported organizations with over $6 million in grants.

The Vilcek Foundation is a private operating foundation, a federally tax-exempt nonprofit organization under IRS Section 501(c)(3). To learn more, please visit vilcek.org.

Source: The Vilcek Foundation

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