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Volume 20 Issue 1 - September 2014

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For The RecordKiran

For The RecordKiran AhluwaliaANDREW TIMARIn his 2005 article “Ghazal Original” BritishKiran Ahluwaliamusic critic Ken Hunt reckoned that KiranAhluwalia “has the potential to become oneof the great ambassadors of Indo-Pakistanidiaspora music, not [just] from Canada, [but]from anywhere…” (fRoots Issue 269). With eachnew album she has come closer to fulfillingthat promise; two JUNO Best World MusicAlbum awards (and several nominations) later,Ahluwalia has proven her perennial appealto audiences and critics alike. In 2009 theSonglines/WOMAD Best Newcomer of theYear Award heralded her as an internationalworld music star of growing stature. VariousWorld Music charts over the years have echoedthat trend. Her 2011 cover of the qawwali songMustt Mustt, by the celebrated late Pakistaniqawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, recordedwith the Malian group Tinarawen, has garneredan impressive 314,000 visits on YouTube.Since Ahluwalia‘s first CD in 2001, her stringof album releases, accompanied by evolvinginstrumentation and stylistic components, hasbeen called “one of global music’s most interestingadventures.” It seems that each newalbum marks personal growth, the expansionof her careful listening to yet another geo-cultural zone of our world.She has also shown a continued eagerness to contest the borders ofher musical comfort zone in live performance. For instance, last yearshe shared the Harbourfront Centre stage with the rising Inuk throatsinger Tanya Tagaq as well as divas from other musical traditions.On other occasions she’s sung with electronica groups Eccodek andDelerium, with an Afghan rubab player and a Cape Breton fiddler.She has performed her compositions, as arranged by Glenn Buhr,with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. The list of genres she’s collaboratedin also includes Portuguese fado, sub-Saharan percussion,Pakistani qawwali, and most recently, African blues. Incorporating justone culturally “other” element in one’s music can be problematic onseveral levels, yet she integrates each new element with seeming graceand ease.Such a vast range of musical interests is indeed impressive.Where does it come from? Does this rare quality reflect a Canadian,or a specifically Torontonian sensibility? How did she arrive atthis idiosyncratic, transcontinental and evidently very successfulmusical fusion?I caught up with Ahluwalia on August 15 tofind some answers to these questions. She wasin the middle of her day in NYC and I was inmy Toronto office; we spoke via Skype.“I was born in Patna … in [North Central]India to Punjabi parents,” she began. “Some ofmy earliest memories were of learning EnglishMother Goose nursery rhymes from myparents, but also Indian songs. They were bothghazal “passionistas”; they held singing partiesfeaturing ghazals.”I wondered about her earlier musical formativeexperiences and teachers. “Back in Indiain addition to [North] Indian classical musicour family would also listen to Bollywoodsongs on the radio,” Ahluwalia recalls. “I wasnine when we moved to Toronto in 1974, andI began studying classical Indian music withseveral vocal teachers, finally spending aboutsix years studying classical raag with NarendraDatar. I also continued singing ghazals on myown and with my parents while completingmy University of Toronto degree in IndustrialRelations.” Did a career in IR ever beckon?Perhaps surprisingly, the answer was maybe.“In 1990 I went back to India for 14 months purely to study vocal fulltimewith classical vocalist Padma Talwalkar in Mumbai in privateriyaaz.” She thought this extended period of music immersionwould “get music out of my system so I could then get on with myregular life!”It seems that it did no such thing. Despite returning to Canada tocomplete an MBA at Dalhousie University, during that time Ahluwaliastill “managed to keep my mornings free for my music.” Clearly shecouldn’t abandon her passion for singing, and returned to Bombayfor the summer – again for more intensive music study. One benefitof her MBA though: it did help her land several jobs. These expandedher view of the music of the world and how it was possible to includecorners of it in her own South Asian-centred music.Her position at the Toronto offices and studios of the CBC forinstance, “proved to be a pivotal one in my music career,” she says.“I owe much to Ann MacKeigan.” For ten years MacKeigan producedthe pioneering world music radio show Global Village for the CBC.Ahluwalia continued, “Ann taught me several key things. One wasContinues on page 76BRENDAN LALLYTHE GHAZAL, a poetic form which is often sung, is at the heartof Kiran Ahluwalia’s music. Here are a few of its features. The formconsists of rhyming couplets culminating in a refrain, each linemaintaining the same metre. The essential subject of a ghazal is thearticulation of the myriad hues of love, often illicit or unrequited,poetically expressing the pain of loss, of separation, or the beauty oflove despite that pain. Of Arabic, Persian and Ottoman origin, theghazal was spread by Sufi poets to regional courts throughout SouthAsia around the 12th century. Further afield, it was also adapted laterin Southeast Asia by poets in Islamic Malay states and its practiceflourishes in Malaysia today. In South Asia the ghazal is most prominentlywritten and performed in Dari and Urdu, though it is alsofound in the poetry of other regional languages.Ghazal held a central place in Ahluwalia’s family musical environmentand early career, and I asked her if she still includes elementsof ghazal in her current music. She was quick to focus on her recentevolution. “I’m not a traditional ghazal performer, nor do I presentit in a traditional way,” she replied, adding, “I did however study inIndia with the ghazal maestro Vithal Rao. It began in the early 1990sand lasted a decade. He was the last court musician of the Nizam[hereditary ruler] of Hyderabad.”This last fact not incidentally connects Ahluwalia’s practice withan old transcultural tradition. The Nizams used their great wealth topatronize a rich culture of cuisine, art, architecture and literature –particularly from Persian sources – the latter a central feature of theHyderabadi Muslim identity.10 | September 1, 2014 – October 7, 2014

LONDONPHILHARMONICORCHESTRAVladimir Jurowski,Principal ConductorJean-Efflam Bavouzet, PianoGramophone Artist Of the Year2014 NomineeFRIDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2014 8 PMROY THOMSON HALLMagnus Lindberg: ChoraleProkofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8Supported byandMedia PartnerCALL 416-872-4255MASSEYHALL.COM | ROYTHOMSON.COM

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