Enthralling Ghazals

Kiran Ahluwalia – Kiran AhluwaliaKiran Ahluwalia (Triloka/Artemis TRI-CD-82055, 2005)

The musical style called ghazal (not to be confused with the duo of the same name) originated in Persia ten centuries ago and crossed over to India a few hundred years after that. Ghazals are, in essence, poems set to music, and to this day it’s a form that’s neither strictly classical nor popular but very much its own.

Indian-born, Canadian-raised Kiran Ahluwalia developed a passion for ghazals as well as Punjabi folk music at an early age, carrying that passion halfway around the world when she moved with her parents to Toronto. Against their wishes she decided to pursue music full time, making her way back to India
to study classical formats and the poetic structures that are at the heart of ghazal (the latter was more elusive, since there are not too many ghazal masters in the limelight these days). It’s to our great benefit that Ahluwalia was thus driven, since the result is her new self-titled CD.

With so much new Indian music veering toward the club-friendly bhangra style and the like, it’s
refreshing to hear an emerging artist not only aiming more for the roots but doing it from a home base in Canada that may well make her the only composer of contemporary ghazals in the Western Hemisphere. And while the disc is clearly built around the strength of Ahluwalia’s original ghazals (her music, others’ words), she tackles some traditional Punjabi songs that are equally lovely.

Dense but lilting foundations of tabla, sarangi, harmonium and other familiar Indian instruments are heard, enveloping Ahluwalia’s clear, agile high vocal tones as she sings poetic/parabolic lyrics dealing mainly with love on various levels.

Opening up the fusion possibilities of ghazal a bit, some songs echo with a folksy feel one might associate with Ahluwalia’s adopted homeland, including typically fine fiddling by Cape Breton’s Natalie MacMaster. An
inspired and heartfelt album, sure to please.

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