Kiran Ahluwalia Beyond Boundaries

Ever since her first album, Kashish-Attraction (2001), Kiran Ahluwalia has become the premier ambassador for ghazal music. Though she's successfully attuned Anglophonic ears to the jewel-like tonalities of the Urdu language, it’s great to see that she's moved onto a new project: the practice of ghazal-writing within the West. Three of the lyricists featured on Beyond Borders are Canadian residents Rasheed Nadeem, Rafi Raza and Tahira Masood — but don't expect anything diasporic about their compositions. Like canonical figures Bule Shah and Bashir Badr (also featured on the disc), the poetry of Nadeem, Raza and Masood keeps with the feverishly romantic modes of the ghazal's 700-year-old tradition. Ahluwalia's vocals are sweet and euphonious as always, but her arrangements are much more expansive and culturally diverse this time around. She's added dhol, rebab and swarmandal to her now-conventional mix of harmonium, tabla and guitar. There's a lot of vigour among the musicians as well as some unorthodox interpretations of the lyrics. The best example of the latter is in "Saqiya," where flamenco-styled guitar playing and castanet-like percussion come to suggest what a ghazal would have sounded like if it had migrated from medieval Persia to Moorish Spain. The beauty of Beyond Borders is that it is never self-conscious nor over-stylised with such fusionist tendencies. Ahluwalia keeps the ghazal real and worldly at the same time. (Festival)