Kiran Ahluwalia
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Kiran Ahluwalia

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Kiran Ahluwalia is a performer of vocal music. More precisely she is a performer of two distinct styles of vocal music from the Indian subcontinent, now India and Pakistan. Kiran sings ghazals and Punjabi folk songs. The word ghazal is an Arabic word that means "to talk to women". Given that men have traditionally spoken to women a great deal about love; the name attached itself to a form of poetic sung verse that originated in Persia about 1000 years ago and reached India around 400 years later. This happened about 600 years before Kiran Ahluwalia was born but was to have a profound effect on her life.

Kiran Ahluwalia was born in the state of Bihar in Northern India to Punjabi parents. The family moved to New Zealand for the first four years of Kiran's life and back to India for another five before coming to Canada where Kiran grew up in Toronto. In the seventies the Indian community in Toronto was relatively small. Cultural events took place in people's homes. Singers would perform in basements and living rooms; concerts were promoted by word of mouth. These concerts were not primarily for children. They featured a repertoire, language and content that was both demanding and beyond the experience of a child. Kiran was, however, entranced by the sound and feel of the music. Later, like many other children of immigrants, she went to classes in the dance and music of her country of origin, and performed occasionally at her home or those of friends of her parents. And there it might have ended if Kiran had not "got the itch"' as she describes it.

Having graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Industrial Relations, Kiran was ensconced in the Human Resources department of a credit union. Educated and employed, her parents were beginning to raise the next item on a young woman's agenda - marriage. Kiran, however, was haunted by a recurring vision of waking up as an old woman and realizing she had never done the one thing she really wanted to do --pursue music as a full time occupation. Having studied Indian music on a part-time basis throughout high school and university, in 1990 she quit her job and went to India to immerse herself in the rigorous life of a full time music student. Everything was hard, finding the right teacher, the studying, the loneliness, the culture shock, the weather, the life of a single woman in a patriarchal society. But when Kiran Ahluwalia came home she knew she had found what she really wanted to do.

After receiving her training in classical music in Bombay, she traveled to Hyderabad. Here she found Vithal Rao, one of the last living court musicians of the Nizam (King) of Hyderabad. A man of legendary vocal ability and kindness, he is a living link to the centuries old ghazal genre. Rao took on Kiran as his student. She returns regularly to India to continue her studies in greater depth with this living master of ghazals.

Although her family is from Punjab, Kiran herself had never visited the region until the mid '90s. Taking advantage of an extended period of study in India, Kiran decided it was time to learn first hand the folk songs of her ancestral region. Traveling to small villages Kiran immersed herself in the daily life and celebrations. She spent time with a number of traditional singers absorbing their style and approach and regularly performs some of these songs.

For ten years Kiran bounced between studies in India, performances in Canada and the United States, and more mundane pursuits: she got an MBA in Halifax and spent six months as a bond trader in Toronto. She discovered her musical skills and business degree could land her jobs closer to her art. She worked for Saturday Night Magazine, produced for CBC radio and for Women’s Television Network (WTN). For two years she worked as Assistant General Manager of Putumayo World Music, a leading North American world music record label. While helping to sell other people’s recordings Kiran planned how to make her own.

In 2000 Kiran decided to come home to Toronto and throw herself totally into a life devoted to the making of her own music. In the fall of that year she recorded her first album, Kashish – Attraction, released in the spring of 2001. It won critical acclaim and people in Canada began to pay attention. Kashish-Attraction was nominated for a Juno Award in the World Music category. She toured across Canada, delighting audiences as she introduced them to one of the world’s great vocal traditions.

Kiran Ahluwalia is not only an interpreter of ghazalsshe is also a creator. As a composer Kiran is forging a new repertoire, putting words of Indo and Pakistani Canadian poets to her own musical compositions; music that is firmly rooted in the tradition, while taking a contemporary turn. She has become an organic part of the long line of singers who have preserved and reinvented the ghazal form over the last thousand years.

In March of 2002 she performed at a world music festival in