Music made by the South Asian diaspora has always held the world’s interest: whether in the rich history of classical music, the ethereal beauty of devotional music like the Gurbani, or the tremendous range in regional folk tunes.
And it’s helped in no small way by musicians like JUNO-awardee Kiran Ahluwalia. Born in India and raised in Canada, Ahluwalia has the benefit of both worlds. She takes the subcontinent’s best musical treasures and reinvents them. The energetic beats of Punjabi folk and the structures of Indian classical music all merge with an international selection of Ahluwalia’s favorite musical traditions and become something new. A lifetime of singing and training in music, along with a deeply creative practice meld in her mind to create something beautiful.
Although she’s typically worked with Indian styles over her long career, her latest work, the album 7 Billion, released in 2018, pushes limits.
It encompasses all of Ahluwalia’s myriad melodic muses: the guitar twang of Mali, the heavy heartbeat of Southern soul, the gorgeous nuance of subcontinental sounds. It also features West African Blues, contemporary jazz, and American R&B. On her website, Ahluwalia adds, “I’ve taken aesthetics I love such as blues, Malian styles, and of course Indian forms and mashed them together in my own way,” Kiran Ahluwalia works with a 5-piece group of electric guitar, accordion, organ, tabla, and drum kit
Ahluwalia refuses to see her Indian heritage as her defining characteristic. She’s creating her own genre, one that reflects and benefits significantly from being in the diaspora. “This isn’t the way Indian music is in any other part of the world. I hesitate to even call it Indian. We’re doing something that hasn’t been done before. It’s an organic hybrid that’s reflective of so many personal and lived influences.”