Kiran Ahluwalia Kashish Attraction

More than a millennium old, the ghazal is one of the most popular musical forms in the North Indian and Pakistani regions. An artful rival to the more commercial Bollywood style, it's one of the few of the South Asian canons that truly reaches for the precious, yet accessible, intermediary between classical, mystical and folk styles. The ghazal has never found a sizeable audience outside of the subcontinent, mainly because of the languages it uses (i.e., Persian, Urdu and Punjabi), but Kashish Attraction is the best introduction to come our way thus far. Toronto-based vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia provides a brief, but informative, history of the genre and a lyric sheet that's bilingual, but the attraction for all of this ultimately lies in her performance. Graced with a tone that is as sensuous as it is serious, she melodically tells stories on the intoxicating power of love, beauty and even home. The poems that make up her lyrics come from a wide range of sources: folklore, family, medieval and contemporary poets. She's also chosen an accompaniment of the bare minimum essentials - tabla, harmonium, tabla, sarangi and guitar. The latter might seem as the most unorthodox of the ensemble, but Dhiren Raichura finds a way to bring out its lyrical and ornamental qualities. Unlike some of her contemporaries on the subcontinent, she avoids unnecessary overdubs and tacky synthesisers and achieves a rare presentation of clarity for this genre. By contrast, the Amir Khusro composition, "Sau Rang," demonstrates an intriguing desire to experiment with vocal and string drones. The only shortcoming is that there are just eight tracks on the disc, but of course, as is often the case at most ghazal performances, that's enough to arouse the audience to demand more. (Festival)