Kiran Ahluwalia
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Kiran Ahluwalia

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2004 | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2004
Band World Acoustic




"Review: Kiran Ahluwalia at the Mint"

Review: Kiran Ahluwalia at the Mint

With just a few notes and melodies, music has the ability to transport listeners across the world. At Indo-Canadian vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia’s Monday performance at the Mint, she stoked up fiery wanderlust with sounds of Portugal, North Africa and India, enveloping the audience in the currents of her cross-cultural style.

Ahluwalia presented flavors of updated Indian folk songs and Sufi poetry, singing in the playful cadences of Urdu and Punjabi. She also dished out the pulsing rhythms of North African tuareg music found on her latest album, "Aam Zameen," which features collaborations with Saharan bands Terakaft and Tinariwen. Her transcontinental sound is powered by a four-piece band of bass, guitar, tabla and the harmonium, a hand-pumped organ. But at the center of the slightly jazzy, hybridized music is Ahluwalia’s voice.

Ahluwalia stood center stage with eyes closed, her right hand slowly rising to the rafters as if to drop rose petals or sprinkle sand, while her voice soared and swooped. On “Soch Ka,” her voice tiptoed and dashed across musical scales, as the droning notes of harmonium player Kiran Thakrar created textures with each exhale of the organ. Ahluwalia’s voice climbed high then lilted downward, warbling and wavering with melismic flourishes. Her carefully crafted vocals shifted from deliberate dissonance to harmony, oscillating between disorder and order, shoring beauty and discord upon each other. When her voice grew quiet, the sounds of the room became clear -- the bartenders scooping ice, cash registers printing receipts, busboys clinking plates -- but the audience was silently captivated by Ahluwalia’s siren songs.

Ahluwalia was born in India, but raised in Toronto. After earning her MBA, she decided to leave behind the business world to study music in India. For the next decade, she learned the craft of classical Indian singing. Her songs are fables and Punjabi poems called ghazals. Onstage, Ahluwalia embraced the role as storyteller. Before the incendiary tabla solo of virtuosic player Nitin Mitta that opens “Meri Gori Gori,” Ahluwalia explained the song’s meaning. “This is a song about a woman who looks down at her wrist, and realizes that it is bare,” she said, “and she wants her lover to put some bangles on it. She says yellow bangles, but she really wants some 24-karat ones.”

Before performing “Yaar Naal,” a breezy number backed with strumming guitar played by Ahluwalia’s husband, Rez Abbasi, she revealed the story behind the Sufi-style love song. “It’s a song about people who really like to drink,” she said, getting a cheer from the bar, “and just like drinkers can never quench their thirst, so too am I intoxicated with my beloved.”

When she announced the song “Mustt Mustt (Lost In His Work),” the audience gave a simultaneous coo of excitement and slight awe. It takes courage to attempt the song by Pakistani musical icon Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but Ahluwalia delivered her most powerful performance with her take on the Qawwali classic, which intermixed lurching North African rhythms with her own soulful vocal acrobatics.

For another upbeat Saharan-inspired song driven by handclaps, “Raqba,” Ahluwalia said the song “takes stock of your life, when you’ve been walking along a path, and it looks like you’ve only been kicking up dust.” But for Ahluwalia, who endures an intercontinental tour schedule to satisfy a global thirst for her soul-stirring voice, a little dust is all part of the journey. - Los Angeles Times

"Global Beat Fusion: Desert Blues and a Sufi Muse"

Certain careers arc while others are rather like cliffs. Arcing usually results in a few lauded albums followed by a slow and painful descent, inevitably collapsing with matinee performances at local VFWs or, if lucky, a dedicated slot in the Vegas circuit. Cliff drops are predominantly reserved for artists who receive millions of dollars in marketing pushes while teenagers; a generation later they're signing up for whatever network will produce a reality show based on the drug habit they have yet to kick, or how many women will trade a date with a bandana-wearing has-been for an opportunity to smile pretty for the camera. Slow and steady is the golden rule, says the tortoise, in which case your career is due to passion and not gimmick, avoiding the trappings of too much too soon.

It would be hard to turn Malian desert blues into a glitzy stratagem, though I'm sure with the genre's growing popularity some will try. Tinariwen does not partake in such foolishness. This band's name will forever be associated with Tuareg music, being the first to break through to international audiences a decade ago with an intriguing blend of African blues and percussion. Featuring '70s era electric guitars and lyrics and chants sung in Tamashek, Tinariwen plays trance music: the subtle, pervasive percussion creates a circular hypnotism that the melodies and guitar riffs embrace.

While much has been made about the band's nomadic roots -- members really do live in the desert, and don't just rush there for photo ops -- so far they've only recorded in studios in Bamako and France. While the music may have been written amidst the sand and sun that the members know intimately, it was not until Tassili (Anti-) that Tinariwen recorded in its native environment. Setting up camp and powering off generators for three weeks, this softer, more acoustic offering is perhaps the closest thing you can achieve to being among the musicians without pond-jumping to Africa.

During the band's last American tour, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit backstage with two members. Both strummed guitars, one sang; this trio in the darkened green room felt nothing of the chaos of the 700 people they were about to greet. For 20 minutes everything outside of that dimly lit concrete cave ceased to matter. As incredible as the concert was, nothing will erase that impromptu offering from my mind, and nothing has come as close to capturing the intimacy of that moment, until Tassili.

Recording in the town of Djanet in Southeastern Algeria, bordering Libya -- they could not perform in Mali due to recently renewed fighting, something that helped to form this band over three decades ago -- TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe contribute on five tracks, including the excellent single, "Tenere Taqqim Tossam." Sipping mint tea and counting on starlight for inspiration, the Brooklynites seem comfortably situated in this beautiful surrounding. Others kicked in overdubs from their prospective studios, including a unique brass section on "Ya Messingah" by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, while Wilco's Nels Cline strums gorgeously on "Imidiwan Ma Tennam."

Tinariwen's fame is growing daily, with the band counting Thom Yorke, Bono, Robert Plant and Carlos Santana as fans. The Red Hot Chili Peppers recently released a tour video using a Tinariwen song. Yet perhaps the most interesting place that they've showed up is on the India-born, Toronto-bred singer Kiran Ahluwalia's fifth album, Aam Zameen: Common Ground (Avokado). Pollinating ghazal and Punjabi folk music with fado and fiddle, collaborating with Guelphian electronic artist Eccodek and the eclectic throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Ahluwalia has long sought to merge her ancestral sound with global influences. Success she has had, but none as satisfying as her foray through the Saharan lowlands.

The record includes three renderings of the most famous qawwali song of all time, made globally unforgettable by the great Pakistani folk singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, "Mustt Mustt." The name alone is so ubiquitous that I remember watching a qawwali group assume the name roughly a decade ago at the Quebec City Jazz Festival, the Arabic equivalent of naming your cover band "Strange Days" or "Stairway to Heaven." That band used a tinny sounding drum machine to produce handclaps, which is perhaps the closest thing to blasphemy you'll find in Qawwali.

Yet it is the handclaps that draw an intriguing parallel between Qawwali and Tuareg music, and it was the 'instrument' that molded these two sounds together. Credit equally Justin Adams, a phenomenal British guitar player who has produced two records by Tinariwen, as well as worked alongside Robert Plant and Gambian ritti (one-stringed fiddle) player Juldeh Camara. The ritti appears on Aam Zameen, as does plenty of searing guitar work, by both Adams and co-producer Rez Abassi, an exceptional jazz six-stringer doubling as Ahluwalia's husband.

The most unique addi - Huffington Post

"India Meets West Africa on an Album of "Transcendent" Music"

It could be a question on Jeopardy! It's definitely a category that Nick Hornby would think up: "Top three women singers with roots in India who've made it in the West." Sheila Chandra would top the list. Susheela Raman would also be there. And then there'd be Kiran Ahluwalia, a relative newcomer who, with each new album, solidifies her position as one of world music's most formidable voices.

On Aam Zameen: Common Ground, released three weeks ago, Ahluwalia collaborates with two "desert blues" bands from Mali to produce something magical: an Indian/West African hybrid that also pays homage to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the late Pakistani superstar who, in the 1990s, redefined the boundaries of East-West collaboration. Aam Zameen, then, is a three-for-one -- a must-have album for world-music habitués and the kind of release that newcomers would hear and say, "Holy $%#*@#$ -- who is that?"

On Wednesday, Bay Area audiences get to see Ahluwalia firsthand when she performs at Yoshi's in Oakland as part of a nationwide tour. Tinariwen and Terakaft, the two bands that Alhuwalia worked with on Aam Zameen, won't be at Yoshi's, but Alhuwalia is playing with a formidable lineup that includes her husband, guitarist Rez Abbasi. Ahluwalia alone is worth hearing. Her voice resonates with the high pitches of classical Indian music, a distinctive sound that takes on new meaning as Ahluwalia applies it to Portuguese Fado, Celtic music, Punjabi folk songs, or whatever else has suited her fancy on previous albums. To me, her work with Tinariwen and Terakaft is the best of her career. See her video with Tinariwen performing the Nusrat standard "Mustt Mustt," and you see why one music critic called Ahluwalia's new album "transcendent."

Ahluwalia's Paris recording with Tinariwen came six years after she attended their concert in Toronto and fell in love with their music. Ahluwalia admits she became "obsessed" with Tinariwen, a group whose pop resume includes opening concerts for the Rolling Stones. How obsessed was Ahluwalia? She put their CDs in her alarm-clock system so that the first thing she heard waking up was Tinariwen. She also sent one of her CDs to them in Mali, and fortunately for Ahluwalia, Tinariwen liked what they heard. The "Mustt Mustt" video captures the first moments of their 2010 Paris confab, when they began performing without rehearsals even though they'd never previously met.

"I just remember this moment when we all shook hands, and said 'Salaam Alaikum,' and 'Walaikum Salaam' (the Arabic greeting for "Peace Be Upon You") -- and said our hellos to the engineers-- and I sat down and thought, 'OK. What now?'" Ahluwalia said in a recent phone interview from her home in New York. "And Abdallah (Ag Alhousseini, one of Tinariwen's lead singers) started singing in Tamashek, and I started singing along with him, improvising one of their songs, and I know they appreciated that. The session was for them to enter my music, and here I was coming out and entering theirs. Now, when Abdallah and I meet, whenever Tinariwen is in New York, we always sing together and hang out backstage for hours. But that was the start of it. It unraveled and unfolded itself like a gift."

Thanks to her collaboration with Tinariwen and Terakaft, Ahluwalia will perform at the Festival in the Desert, the annual event that takes place in the sands outside Timbuktu, Mali in January. For a cross-cultural singer and adventurous traveler like Ahluwalia -- someone who was born into the Sikh tradition in India, raised in Canada, and married a man born in Pakistan -- performing at the festival is a dream come true. But Ahluwalia let me in on a kind of secret: though many of her albums, including her newest one, are about bridging disparate music traditions, she could have easily come up with another title for Aam Zameen: Common Ground.

"There's definitely common ground in music, but really -- even though I named the CD Common Ground, because it's a nice title, what I'm interested in is the different ground," Ahluwalia says. "It's the different ground that is going to bring something new to my music, and not give me a bunch of CDs that are 'Kiran Ahluwalia, Volume I,' 'Kiran Ahluwalia, Volume II,' 'Kiran Ahluwalia, Volume III' -- but give me something that reflects my own evolution as a person and a musician and where I've gone musically; to help me find a different way to say something. You kind of want to use the common ground to lay a wonderful bed and a basis in which the differences can come out, so that one can hear this CD and say, 'Wow. This is a different direction but it's the same roots of her last CD. But 'Different Ground' doesn't make for a good title."

Ahluwalia laughs as she says that. You can see her and members of Tinariwen laughing on their video to "Mustt Mustt," a song that offers praise above for the life we have on Earth.

Kiran Ahluwalia performs Wednesday, November 16, 8pm at Yoshi's in Oakland. For tickets an - KQED Arts

"Kiran Ahluwalia Unearths a Magical Mix"

Kiran Ahluwalia
Aam Zameen: Common Ground (Avokado Artists Recordings/Ais, 2011)

The Indian Canadian artist Kiran Ahluwalia is a female powerhouse on the world music scene with recordings such as the self-titled Kiran Ahluwalia and Wanderlust to her credit, as well as collaborations with the Chicago Sinfonietta, Tanya Tagaq, Delerium and Eccodek. For her latest Aam Zameen: Common Ground, Ms. Ahluwalia teams up with the Tuareg group Tinariwen to fuse the desert blues with her own brand of Indian song.

Kicking off Aam Zameen, Ms. Ahluwalia goes straight for the good stuff with a rousing version of Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan’s “Mustt Mustt. Packed with dishy vocals by Ms. Ahluwalia, that signature rootsy Tinariwen sound and some ululations that will send shivers up your spine, this track is spectacular.

Fans are treated to a dreamy version refashioned into “Mustt Mustt Redux” and a closing extended “Mustt Mustt.” The gems stack up on Aam Zameen with the flowing strains of “Rabba Ru,” the exotically evocative “Raqba” and the sweetly colored “Matadjem.” There’s even a little funk thrown in at the opening of the Indian saturated “Zindagi.” Aam Zameen turns out a truly collaborative fare with nods to Ms. Ahluwalia’s roots with the infectious rhythms of India and guitar lines of Tinariwen’s Saharan desert blues sound. The effect is potent and deeply satisfying.

In addition to Tinariwen and Ms. Ahluwalia’s band, Aam Zameen shows off the excellent musical expertise of guest musicians from the Tuareg group Terakaft and Gambian ritti player Juldeh Camera (again, with the shivers up your spine). If that weren’t enough, Justin Adams lends his guitar work and acts as co-producer along with Rez Abbasi, with Peter Moore of Cowboy Junkies fame to master the recording

Ms. Ahluwalia has unearthed a magical mix on Aam Zameen. - World Music Central

"Exciting Canadian ghazal singer finally gets international release"

Kiran Ahulwalia
Triloka 82055-2
Peter Culshaw

Amongst all the many fusion attempts, this stands out as a disc that, unusually, manages to mix the best of East and West utterly successfully. The Western side is the terrific, clear production by Andrew Hurlbut and Rez Abassi and a certain energetic directness; the Eastern, and stronger, element is provided by some poetic ghazals and the wonderfully pliable, expressive of Kiran Ahluwalia. Born in India and raised in Toronto, she writes most of the music on the CD.

Ghazals, which originated in Persia and thrived on the subcontinent, have always been somewhere between classical and popular music. Ahluwalia is someone who has heard everything from flamenco to bhangra to rock music and incorporated all her influences in a music that honestly reflects her background in two cultures. Entirely acoustic, there is greate playing throughout, notably from harmonium player Kiran Thakrar, some excellent sarangi from Ramesh Misr and some tricky flute from Jittu Sharma. Too many fusion records have featured cute Indian bimbos – Ahluwalia seems to be a powerful woman who has a depth of character in her voice. Indo-Canadian poets provide lyrics in Urdu and Punjabi. The album leaps out of the starting gate with ‘Vo Kuch’ and the standard only dips on a couple of tracks.
- Songlines

"Kiran Ahluwalia's Own Contemporary Canadian Spin"

Listening to Kiran Ahluwalia’s debut Kashish-Attraction made it clear that she was distinctive, yet the assurance that she has developed since 2000 is astonishing. Nothing prepared listeners for the paradigm shift for Indo-Pakistani diaspora music that she launched with Beyond Boundaries in 2003, however. That was when she broke through into the wide blue yonder. She is already demonstrating that she has the potential to become one of the great ambassadors of Indo-Pakistani diaspora music, not from Canada, from anywhere. Plus, if somebody gets judged but the company they keep, then her choice of collaborators in the sarangi maestro Ramesh Misra and the cape Breton Island fiddler Nathalie MacMaster on the latest CD Kiran Ahluwalia (Triloka) speaks volumes for her future as well as her good taste. She has already gone beyond ‘unusual’ and ‘distinctive’. She is unique in the proper sense of the word…………..

………“For me, my interpretations are quite secular, about carnal love, but Rasheed Nadeem, the very first poet whose lyrics I composed, writes in the Sufi mystic tradition which is all about getting closer to God. So in the song ‘Kina Nere’, when he says ‘no matter how hard I get close to you, the distance between us remains vast’, he’s talking about God. When I’m composing, and it’s not to say that I’m not spiritual, for me my inspiration is love between human beings. To me that ghazal is about a man who’s shy -who’s not able to communicate those famous three words. He’s not able to tell her how he feels for her. Something holds him back. He’s having such a hard time communicating with her and telling her how he feels about her. He’s trying so hard in his mind and yet the distance between him and her is growing because he’s just not able to blurt the words out.........

"Her Indian sound combines poems and modern jazz"

Devotion to an ancient, rule-bound art form doesn't mean a musician can't create a vibrant 21st-century sound -- not if the vocalist is Kiran Ahluwalia, at least.

As one of North America's premiere interpreters of ghazals, a love-besotted Persian poetic form dating to the 11th century that flourishes today in India and Pakistan, Ahluwalia has developed a repertoire of new songs by searching out Urdu poets in the Indian diaspora and setting their lyrics to music. The result is a startlingly beautiful collection of incantatory ghazals and celebratory, flirtatious Punjabi folk songs that she delivers in her undulating girlish voice.

Ahluwalia makes her Boston debut Wednesday as part of the Museum of Fine Arts' wide-ranging Concerts in the Courtyard summer series, with a quartet featuring electric guitarist Rez Abbasi, Naren Budhakar on tabla, and Ashok Bidaye on harmonium. Ahluwalia is quick to point out that while she has made numerous trips to Hyderabad, India, to study with Vithal Rao, one of the last living ghazal masters, who learned his craft in the era before Indian independence, her music is very much a product of the present day.

''I really hate it when people think I'm singing traditional music," Ahluwalia says by phone from her Toronto home. ''I think I'm singing contemporary music, music that is written and composed today. I'm using contemporary arrangements and instruments. A lot of people who are strict lovers of Indian music think that the introduction of guitar in my music is a fusion, but the guitar has been used in India for the last 30 years. I've just given it a more prominent voice in my arrangements."

While Ahluwalia has gained a fair amount of renown in Canada (her 2003 CD ''Beyond Boundaries" won a Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy, for best world music album), her Boston performance comes at the beginning of her first high-profile North American tour, as she celebrates the release of her first album with US distribution. The self-named disc on Triloka is an anthology drawn from her previous Canadian releases, with two new tracks featuring Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster.

Born into a Punjabi family in the north Indian state of Bihar and raised mostly in Canada, Ahluwalia grew up attending ghazal concerts with her parents. A rigorous form that usually consists of a series of couplets laced together by a precise rhyme scheme, ghazals (guh-zles) originated in Persia and spread to the Indian subcontinent around the 15th century. The term means ''to talk to women" in Arabic, and not surprisingly the topic of most ghazals is unrequited love, though there are also many that explore mystical themes.

Ahluwalia's compositions hew fairly close to the traditional form, though she has honed a sound that is open to other influences, particularly jazz.

''Kiran has totally influenced my playing and feeling toward Indian music," says Abbasi, a respected jazz figure. ''My father tells me, if only you understood the words, they're so beautiful, but I almost don't need to. The melodic content is so rich, and form-wise, her pieces are more intricate than a lot of the jazz I've played."

While Ahluwalia's parents started her on her musical journey, encouraging her study of classical Indian music, they weren't overjoyed when she decided to drop out of a successful career as a bond trader in Toronto to pursue her music in Bombay.

''But once they accepted that I was going to do this, they have done nothing but help me," she says.

It was a ghazal much loved by her aunt and mother that first inspired the singer to compose music. According to Ahluwalia, family lore has it that her uncle created the sensual poem, which tells the story of a man entranced by a woman. Ahluwalia was so struck when her aunt recited the poem that she promptly wrote down the entire piece and later wrote music for it.

To this day, she says, ''I'm often trying to return to the naivete that I had in composing that very first one."

Unlike the ghazals, Ahluwalia's Punjabi folk songs are uptempo pieces that people can dance to.

"It's a lighter form of poetry," Ahluwalia says, ''like a girl trying to convince her lover to buy her a nose ring."

After many years of study and research in India, Ahluwalia's most important breakthrough was discovering the wealth of ghazals in her own Toronto backyard. A family friend invited her to a recital by a group of poets writing contemporary ghazals in Urdu.

''Instead of looking back to India and Pakistan for lyrics, I discovered that there are South Asian Americans and Canadians writing poems in the ghazal genre," she says. ''Now I'm always on the lookout for poets that are living right here." - Boston Globe

"Kiran Ahluwalia in Concert"

Indian-born Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia's performance Saturday at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage was about halfway traditional. That wasn't because the set was divided 50-50 between upbeat Punjabi folk songs and plaintive ghazals , ballads of longing from a millennium-old tradition. Ahluwalia and her three-man backing troupe revamped both styles, notably by interjecting Rez Abbasi's Latin-jazz guitar solos into the customary union of chattering tabla, droning harmonium and keening voice.
As usually performed in Iran, India and Pakistan, ghazals are venerable classics, sung exclusively by men. Living in Toronto, Ahluwalia doesn't heed such strictures. She began composing her own melodies for contemporary verse written in Urdu and Punjabi by Canadian poets of South Asian descent. As revealed by Ahluwalia's new self-titled album (her U.S. debut), the results are austerely lovely.

In concert, however, the folk tunes were more satisfying. Their rollicking melodies, close relations to Bollywood movie tunes, absorbed Abbasi's flashy guitar more readily than the ghazals did. They also suited Ahluwalia's stage manner, which was outgoing and exuberant. She explained what the Punjabi lyrics were about -- young women who want love or jewelry, mostly -- and led a simple but effective singalong on "Koka," a plea for a gold nose ring.

While ballads such as "Yeh Nahin" provided the best showcase for Ahluwalia's gliding soprano, such sprightly tunes as "Meri Gori Gori" (an appeal for yellow bangles) blended all four musicians more completely.

-- Mark Jenkins - The Washington Post

"Best Albums of 2005"

Kiran was born in India and raised in Toronto and this is one of the best contemporary ghazal albums I've heard in years. She is perhaps the new Najma Akhtar, using the lyrics of Urdu and Punjabi poets in Toronto as well as the Cape Breton fiddling talents of Natalie McMaster. Ahluwalia's voice is caressing and seductive and the arrangements are magnificent. In short, this is a masterful album (actually her third) and Kiran Ahluwalia is clearly a name to watch.

--by Simon Broughton 01/01/06 - Songlines

"CD Review"

If the opening guitar line of “Vo Kuch” doesn’t prove this to be an inordinate ghazal, perhaps the inclusion of Cape Breton fiddle on vocalist Kiran Ahuwalia’s latest album seals that fate. Born in India and reared in Toronto, Ahluwalia’s wide-eyed cosmopolitanism was tempered with a long affection for this classical Persian art form. She went to great lengths to learn from masters, traveling from Bombay and Hyderabad, as well as scouring streets for unrecorded maestros. Her devotion has paid off well, applying a highly literate acumen to maodern ghazal. Like Pakistani qawwali, ghazals are most often reinterpretations of ancient poetry. Here Ahluwalia recruits a few friends to help her pen modern tales of hopeful love and heartbreak. The ghazal uses this idea of longing to express the joys and pains of being human on a physical, as well as metaphysical, plane: the seeking of the beloved are the same prayers of union with the Beloved. Adding in gorgeous guitar lines from husband Rez Abassi and the brilliant fiddling of Natalie MacMaster, the classical elements of tablas, sarangi, tampura and harmonium find a welcoming home in the expanding fusion of Eas/West future folk. When Abassi and MacMaster join forces on “Jhanjra,” a traditional Punjabi song about staying humble in your flamboyancy, the jazzy Celtic idioms sound completely natural amid the handclaps and Ahluwalia’s high-pitched master. Even in the darker moments – “Raabh Da Roop,” a song in which the singer “found my love but lost myself” – there is comfort in uncertainty. When this symphony of sadness concludes, you feel clean, purified. The journey may have been challenging, but when it ends you return home.

-DB - Sing Out

"Q & A with Kiran Ahluwalia"

Longtime readers will no doubt remember Kiran Ahluwalia as one of the group of young women of Indian descent that graced GR’s cover a few years back. Now she returns with an American label to match her residency here in New York City. A tour veteran, Ahluwalia is a voracious listener, on tour and off, and this comes out in her music. "Jo Dil," the first track, is one of the most obvious fusions, matching Portuguese guitar with Ahluwalia's singular voice. But by the time the North African influenced "Yakeenan" plays midway through the album, these outside influences come to sound as natural as a chat between friends. Regardless of the direction the music takes, the singer maintains a unique sense of yearning, which is such an important part of ghazals, while also extemporaneously displaying her formidable vocal technique. It's this mix of melody and musical muscle amidst the shifting styles that stands out here, making Wanderlust the next step in this artist’s career.

So what is a ghazal?

Ghazals are love song—that the simplest way to put it. But things are never really simple. Ghazals are much more than love song—they talk about all sorts of human emotions. In ‘Tere Darsan' a woman describes herself as being, "the parched earth waiting for union with her beloved"—she longs to embrace him, "chest to chest."

With such a long tradition, how many do you think there are?

Ghazals in the Urdu language have been written and sung since the 1500s. There are thousands of classics and contemporary ghazals.

Do you write the song and then find lyrics, or vice versa. How does the process work?

I usually choose the ghazal—the actual poem first and then compose a melody for it. From time to time I hear my producer/ arranger/guitarist/husband, Rez Abbasi, play a pattern of chords that I am compelled to sing to, and so I go searching in my vault for words that I can compose to a specific chordal pattern.

This album seems to be a conscious effort to expand the range of ghazals using elements of other styles of music, such as Portuguese guitar.

Every album represents my expanding sensibilities as a musician. My music has always been a reflection of my own character—for the most part a reflection of both my Indian culture and Canadian upbringing. As I take my own music to distant lands I continue to bear other kinds of music and meet musicians from other genres. When I fall in love with something, I feel compelled to make it a part of my life. For this CD, I took influences from fado music, African Sahara grooves, Pakistani Qawalli, and jazz, all with the underlying basis of my Indian music.

So I understand that you use these different sounds, but why choose the title "Wanderlust”?

Wanderlust is a neat word that describes me and the process by which other influences enter my music. Indian music is my first love and I surround myself with it, but I am also eager to hear what else is happening in the world and to discover new ways of portraying the very same emotions that are in my songs. The title Wanderlust also reflects a specific ghazal on the CD. In the ghazal, "Yakeenan", the writer says, "I stumble more often than other people, only because I wander and experience more often. My wandering is still not perfect—I keep returning home too often."

"Tumba" is a folk song but not a ghazal, even though there is mention of love. Why is it defined as such?

Most if not all of the world's musical genres talk about love, and so love is not the exclusive domain of ghazal. Punjabi folk song is a different genre in itself. Differences in genres are harder to articulate and easier to hear. But a rudimentary explanation is that ghazals are ballads, their poetry has a higher literary sensibility. Folk songs are 'lighter' toe-tapping songs with a driving rhythm. The subject matter of ghazal is consumed by the "why," and the exploration of the self. Punjabi folk songs celebrate everything. There are of course always exceptions to the rule. - Global Rhythm

"Indian vocalist adds to a classical form"

The ghazal, a poetic song form that came to the Indian subcontinent from Persia in the 14th century, would seem to be a distant, highly esoteric form of expression to present to Western audiences. And, with its ancient roots and classical form, it would seem to be an even more unlikely medium for contemporary transformation.

But singer-composer Kiran Ahluwalia, who was born in northern Bihar and raised in New Zealand and Canada, is accomplishing both those tasks. Her performance at the Getty Center's Williams Auditorium on Saturday night illustrated her extraordinary success in bringing ancient and contemporary forms of ghazals to life while setting them in entertaining musical surroundings for 21st century Western audiences.

It was apparent from the moment Ahluwalia and her players arrived on stage that her program, the second in the Getty's annual "Sounds of L.A." series, would not be a typical concert of Indian music. Traditional instruments — the tabla drums of Naren Budhakar and the harmonium of Ashok Bidaye — flanked both sides of a carpeted platform, and Ahluwalia, garbed in a colorful Indian outfit, held a classical, drone-sounding tambura.

But at stage center, Rez Abbasi's amplified acoustic guitar and Dave Phillips' electric bass added a distinctly contemporary presence.

Ahluwalia's music blended these disparate elements superbly, her crystal clear voice arching airily above rhythms that generally coursed through audience-friendly 4/4 and 6/4 meters rather than the complex paradigms of classical Indian ragas. She sang ghazals, ancient and contemporary, as well as traditional Punjabi songs.

Refusing to view the ghazals as a form locked in the past, Ahluwalia has worked with contemporary Indian-Canadian poets to create original material, composing music for new ghazals such as "Vo Kuch" (lyrics by Tahira Masood) and "Yeh Nahin" (lyrics by Rafi Raza).

The Punjabi songs, especially the humorous "Meri Gori Gori" ("Yellow Bangles") and "Koka" ("Fickle"), added an engaging blend of wit and melodiousness to an evening of fascinating, newly revealed music.

by Don Heckman - Los Angeles Times

"4 stars East-meets-West fusion from a feisty new romantic"

This is a dynamic album of ghazals, a romantic form located somewhere between classical and popular music which originated in Persia and is loved on the subcontinent. Ahluwalia, who has an Indian background but lives in Toronto, gives the form an upbeat urban twist , betraying a weakness for flamenco, bhangra and rock. There is great playing throughout, notably from harmonium player Kiran Thakrar , with excellent sarangi from Ramesh Misra and some tricky flute from Jittu Sharma. Too many East-West fusion records have featured cute Indian bimbos - Ahluwalia is a powerful woman with a voice of experience you really wouldn't want to upset. Peter Culshaw - The Guardian, UK

"Songlines/WOMAD MUSIC AWARDS 2009"

“This is the first time you’ve had the Songlines Music Awards, right?” asks Kiran Ahluwalia down the phone from the US. She’s the winner in the Newcomer category, inevitably the one that’s going to throw up interesting
new names. “Wow,” she gasps, “I’ve been part of history-making with Songlines.”

Sometimes a record turns up that just gets under your skin. There’s the warm, silky voice which twists and slips seductively around a
yearning melody and the sweet tingling sound of Portuguese guitar and accordion. And that’s just the first song. Other numbers on Wanderlust are accompanied by more typical Indian instruments like tabla and sarangi, as the voice swoons and subtle harmonies slip one to another. Ahluwalia creates an intoxicating world of heightened emotions – something that ghazal singers in India have been doing for hundreds of years. But Wanderlust is different.

I hesitate to call it a fusion record, because it’s not. There’s something more subtle going on here. But perhaps it’s not surprising that Ahluwalia is open to many influences given her peripatetic upbringing. She was born in India, but moved around between Patna, the capital of India’s poorest state, Bihar, and New Delhi. Her family is Sikh, but she was educated in a Catholic school. “We listened to the radio and a lot of records at home – ghazals and Bollywood,” Ahluwalia recalls. “My mum would write down songs from the radio and I would try and memorise them. Some were quite erotic and my mother got embarrassed about the words.” At the same time she was singing Sikh hymns in the temple every Friday.

She left India, aged nine, for Toronto, Canada, where she befriended an Italian girl: “Sikhs and Catholics have similar attitudes to bringing up girls – strict, basically.” When she was at high school, “once I got fed up of playing my ABBA and Bee Gees records, I’d listen to records of the very best ghazal singers like Jagjit Singh, Vithal Rao [who became her teacher], Ghulam Ali and Shobha Gurtu [mother of Trilok].” She ended up doing a degree in international relations: “But music was always a passion, a strong passion.”

After graduating, Ahluwalia went back to India to seriously study music eight hours a day with a strict teacher, Padma Talwalkar, in the time-honoured Indian way. “If you got something wrong, it’s quite possible you’d get a slap, or something thrown at you,” she says. “I’d close my eyes and get lost in the music and then I’d get a sudden shock as something hit me.”
Ahluwalia went back and forth between Canada and India for more than a decade.

In North America she worked as a touring manager for Putumayo artists and then decided to start singing professionally. She released records in Canada: Kashish Attraction in 2001 and Beyond Boundaries in 2003
(which won a JUNO Award, Canada’s Grammy); and then Kiran Ahluwalia (taking tracks from the previous two) got international attention in 2005. But it is last year’s beautifully produced Wanderlust (World Connection/
Times Square) that is her first proper international release and responsible for the Songlines Music Award. It’s soon to be released in India by Saregama.

Ghazal music isn’t particularly widely known in the West, but these romantic songs are hugely popular in North India and Pakistan – the form arrived, like the Mughals, from Persia and Central Asia. In India today they are heard continually in films and performed as popular and light-classical songs. Ahluwalia sings in Urdu and Punjabi and, whether performing old poetry or contemporary lyrics, she gives them a new twist. “My music is a representation of my personality and my character,” she adds. “Beyond my birth in India and growing up in Canada and now living in New York, I’m a person of the world and the world is there to influence me – whether it’s Portuguese fado or trancey African grooves. I don’t only sing
traditional songs, I want to create a new genre.” tour Kiran Ahluwalia will be touring in Europe later this year album Wanderlust (World Connection).

- Songlines


Kashish - Attraction (Festival Distribution 2001)
Beyond Boundaries (Festival Distribution 2003)
Kiran Ahluwalia (Triloka/Artemis 2005)
Wanderlust (Times Square/World Connection 2008)
Aam Zameen : Common Ground (Proper 2011)



At the center of Kiran's Ahluwalia's music is love in all its shades - yearning romanitc love and sufi mysticism. She is a modern exponent of the great vocal traditions of India and Pakistan which she honors intensely yet departs from in masterful, personal ways. Her original compositions embody the essence of Indian music while embracing influences from both the West and Africa--specifically the Sahara. With her 5-piece group of electric guitar, harmonium, tabla and electric bass, Ahluwalia creates boundary-blurring songs that invite us to explore the human condition, transcending the self by losing ourselves in love.

Born in India, raised in Canada and currently living in New York - Ahluwalia's latest CD, Aam Zameen: Common Ground was awarded her second Canadian Grammy - the prestigious JUNO Award. Her discography, soon to be six albums deep is one of global music's most interesting furrows. Her ease of manner on stage makes her a unique and inspiring performer who's legion of fans continues to grow with every captivating performance.

Her music has garnered glowing praise from critics around the world. "Ahluwalia is busy honing a transnational sound as fresh as tomorrow" (Seattle Times) and "Her's is a voice destined to enchant more than one generation"(fROOTS).

Since the release of her last JUNO Award winning CD Kiran has toured regularly in North America, Europe and has performed at desert festivals in Mali, Morocco and India. Her new album, Sanatta : Stillness to be released in October 2014 has a hybrid Indo-Saharan sound.

In Kiran's words, "When you take two styles of music and merge them together and you don't want a simple cut and paste then you're really developing a new hybrid genre. You're doing something with no clear blueprints to help you. For me it's important to blur the musical boundaries between my Indian background, influences from Western sound and the things I love from the Sahara."

Writing both the words and music, Kiran's songs often speak about the unattainable both the beloved and the divine; about realizing female desire by throwing away all shame, and untying the knots that bind us to stale embraces'.

Kiran Ahluwalia's music is a synthesis of many influences and on her new album she brings it further into a style uniquely her own. Her compositions and arrangements are a reflection of an ongoing quest to create timeless music in a modern and global context, that looks to the future while still maintaining a vital through line to its storied past.

Band Members