Published Jan 01, 2006Kiran Ahluwalia is Canada's leading exponent of ghazal, a 700-year-old tradition of sensual poetry developed in Pakistan and India. Such a heritage would potentially bind any modern day performer to techniques of centuries past, but the form of ghazal, like any successful "highly literate pick-up line," as Ahluwalia once described it, lends itself to a great deal of improvisation. So has Ahluwalia's career.
Of Punjabi descent but raised primarily in Toronto, Ahluwalia began her studies in classical Indian music at age seven. After earning a degree in industrial relations, she changed course to pursue music full time. She explains: "For ten years I hopped between India to learn music, then coming back when the money ran out." In the mid-'90s she completed an MBA and was a bond trader for a spell before once again returning to India to continue her studies. In 2000, she returned to Toronto and recorded her first disc. "I thought it would be another one year stint, but I ended up enticing a manager and an agent. I started getting more gigs and was able to do a second CD."
Her third, self-titled disc is her first international release, and showcases her modern arrangements. Her use of acoustic guitar highlights the unpredictable melodic changes in the alternately sweet and melancholy characteristics of ghazal. Dashes of electric bass and trap drums broaden the more traditional accompaniment of harmonium and tabla, while two tracks on the new album were recorded with Maritime fiddler Natalie McMaster.
Ahluwalia is keen to expand her horizons. This year she guest starred on her husband Rez Abbasi's CD Snake Charmer, a successful blend of jazz and Subcontinental improvising strategies. Another collaboration will soon take place with Vancouver's ambient world beat artists Delirium. "I really like collaborating with Rez, Delirium and Natalie. It makes you think differently about your own music when you work with musicians brought up in different genres. I'm getting so many offers to work with other people, just call me the collaborator chick."