Kiran Ahluwalia,
Kiran Ahluwalia
(Triloka, 2005)

Kiran Ahluwalia's self-titled album is her first international release, and I'm torn. On the one hand, this is a rare treat of an album, a rich infusion of traditional Indian ghazal poetry with modern influences and other traditions. On the other hand, I'm ready to blame everything from the International Monetary Fund to the next red light for the previous absence of this album in my life.

But it's hard to hang onto outrage listening to Ahluwalia's performance. Her musical poems range from the flirtatious rhythms of "Koka (Nose Ring)" to the slow stumbling notes of "Yeh Nahn (Wandering Dusty Paths)," but they all ring with an intimate warmth that invites instant sympathy. Though it's likely few in a North American audience will be able to translate the exact meaning of either Ahluwalia's original work or her delivery of traditional Punjabi folk songs, her vocals make the essential spirit of each song clear in every language. Lonely anxiety spins through the lingering notes of "Yaar (News of My Loved One)." "Meri Gori Gori (Yellow Bangles)" is proudly coy, dancing between drums and flute like the lively young woman it stars. Every song is instantly recognizable in spirit if not story, and bound to get a smile of recognition from anyone really listening.

Ahluwalia never sacrifices the traditional integrity of her music for mass appeal, but she finds ways to incorporate surprising innovation into her work. Her collaboration with fiddler Natalie MacMaster blends the human resonance of her lyrics with the energy of a faerie reel. Her own compositions live perfectly alongside the traditional stories. She seems to have an instinctive knowledge of what is essential and unchangeable to her subject, and where modifications will add to that essence.

Kiran Ahluwalia is proof, if any was needed, that trials of the spirit and joys of the heart are common to every culture. She's also a reminder of the glories to be found in the unique expression of those experiences, and of the beauty to be found in honoring those traditions.

by Sarah Meador
19 May 2007

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