It’s understandable if, when you first hear singer Kiran Ahluwalia’s music, you can’t immediately place its origins. The traces of Africa come from the Malian “desert blues” band Tinariwen, which backs her on Aam Zameen: Common Ground. The rhythms and her singing style owe a debt to India, her birthplace, though sometimes she uncannily echoes the sound of Hungarian siren Marta Sebestyen. And she is clearly taken by the soaring beauty of the Sufi devotional music known as qawwali, having made the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s song “Mustt Mustt” a recurring theme on the album.
Such a polyglot could easily end up sounding forced, but the wonderful thing about Ahluwalia’s music is that it comes off as completely natural, the organic product of a globe-hopping artist born in India, raised in Canada, and now living in New York. Also, despite her music’s traditional roots, the album’s production values are up-to-the-minute contemporary, thanks to the deft touch of producers Rez Abbasi and Justin Adams.
Ahluwalia honed her craft on ghazals, the ancient Persian song-poems full of metaphysical and sensual desire. Although she has branched out stylistically, her music retains the ghazals’ timelessness and their ever-present sense of yearning.
Have something to say? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the January-February 2012 issue of Utne Reader.