Kiran Ahluwalia Appears at The Freight

The two-time Juno Award-winner recently has absorbed a fascinating array of influences, from Portuguese fado and Celtic cadences to the sinewy Saharan blues of Mali’s Tinariwen.


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Photo by George Whiteside

Born into a Punjabi family in the north Indian state of Bihar, raised in Toronto, and now living in New York City, vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia has honed a seductively contemporary approach to an ancient art form.

The two-time Juno Award-winner first gained attention at the turn of the century with her enchanting repertoire of flirtatious Punjabi folk songs and sinuous ghazals, songs based on an ecstatic form of poetry that flowered with Sufism in 12th-century Persia. But in recent years, she’s absorbed a fascinating array of influences, from Portuguese fado and Celtic cadences to the sinewy Saharan blues of Mali’s Tinariwen. It’s not that she tries to sing in these far-flung styles. Rather, Ahluwalia collaborates with leading artists, and her own sonic boundaries expand to encompass some of their sounds without diluting the clarity of her own gorgeous tone.

A key factor in her evolution has been her creative relationship with the great Karachi-born jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi (who also happens to be her husband). He’s produced or co-produced her last five albums, including the most recent, 2018’s 7 Billion (Factor). A brilliant improviser who’s released a series of albums investigating various strains of jazz/rock fusion, world jazz, and Indo-jazz, he brings a vast, improvisation-laced palette to Ahluwalia’s music an accompanist and arranger.

Her ever-expanding book includes songs in Hindi, Punjabi. and Urdu, including many pieces by contemporary poets in the Indian diaspora whose work she sets to her original music. In performance, she often gives a brief synopsis of a song’s theme, but one needn’t comprehend the languages to be swept up in Ahluwalia’s music.

8 p.m. Wed., Dec. 11, $30/$34, Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St., 510-644-2020, TheFreight.org.

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