Culture  Bollywood and beyond

An introduction to the soulful sounds of Kiran Ahluwalia

Born in India, raised in Toronto, and now living in New York City, Kiran Ahluwalia truly is a “citizen of the world,” as she described herself to The Daily over the phone Tuesday.

Ahluwalia developed a love for music at an early age; by the time she was seven, she would listen to the radio avidly, waiting for a particular Bollywood song to come on, one that she liked and wanted to learn. She recounted how her mother would then come running and write down the song lyrics for her so that she could try and learn the melody, and after two or three times, she would have learnt the song.

Ahluwalia believes it was important to be interested in music at such a young age. “It was good to be singing and thinking about melodies, and getting into the habit of learning and picking up melodies right away,” she said. Since then, Ahluwalia continued to build on that love of music, developing her musical talent while attending high school and university in Toronto, and then travelling to India to immerse herself in the rich culture once more.

She returned to Toronto ten years later and released her first album, Kashish Attraction, which garnered her a Juno nomination. However, in 2004 she was able to actually take the award home for her second album Beyond Boundaries – and as she said over the phone, “getting a nomination was great, [but] winning the Juno award was even better. It was a great feeling; if your own country has awarded you something, it [makes it] so much easier to tour in the U.S. and in Europe.”

Ahluwalia’s influences come from all over the world. Most prominently, ghazals, the Indian love songs she sings, and the Bollywood music of her youth, have shaped her music. Another source of inspiration to Ahluwalia is her husband, Rez Abbasi, a jazz guitarist who has played on many of her tracks. Performance-wise, she draws from a ballet by the Canadian dancers Karen Kain and Rex Harrington. She saw the performance when she was attending high school in Toronto, and went into the show expecting to be enthralled by the gorgeous Harrington; however, she was unable to take her eyes off of Kain, “because she was so beautiful with her movement, so sensual, yet at the same time so peaceful.” Ahluwalia aspired to have the same effect on an audience one day, and through her beautiful voice and combination of Indian, jazz, and Portuguese fado influences, she hopes to give listeners and audiences a lyrical and enchanting relief from the day.

When asked about her favourite album, she explained, “It’s always the latest one, because that is the [album] most representative of me now.” Wanderlust, her most recent release, is worldly in the literal sense; Ahluwalia travelled to Portugal for a week to record three songs, then to Toronto to record a few more, and then the last part was recorded in New York. She said an album takes her “forever [to make]. A good year at least.”

Ahluwalia begins her tour in Quebec City March 12, and will be in Montreal on the 13 to promote Wanderlust. When asked about the tour, she said that she loves Montreal and wishes she had more time in the city; she has visited twice for the Montreal Jazz festival and once with a classical organization. This time around, she’ll be performing a mixture of songs, some from the new album Wanderlust, including the title track, “Yakeenan,” and a personal favourite, “Koka,” from her first album.

Performing live is very important to Ahluwalia. “The connection with the music and singer is much more potent [for the audience],” she explained. “[The music] enters you more deeply and is more fulfilling…. All music is a better experience live, same for performing.”

Ahluwalia has high hopes for the concert. “I hope to give an audience the same thing that I hope to get when I am part of an audience. I want to walk into the concert and forget my day, feel something in a different way, and feel release in a different way,” she explained. “I want them to leave feeling entertained, and I want to have taken them away to another place for a short time.”

Ahluwalia will be at Le Savoy, Friday March 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be found online at