KIRAN AHLUWALIA , MARY JANE LAMOND and SHAHID ALI KHAN with RAZ ABBASI , ASHOK BIDAYE , RICH BROWN , KELLY HOOD , MUBASHAR JAFRI , WENDY MacISAAC and RAVI NAIMPALLY as part of EAST MEETS EAST at the Glenn Gould Studio (225 Front West), Tuesday (December 6). $40. 416-205-5555.
My question to Kiran Ahluwalia - does she listen to a lot of new music? - allows the Juno winner to speak on a common misconception about her material.
Just cuz her genres (ghazals and Punjabi folk) originated in India around the 15th century, she tells me over the phone from New York, that doesn't make her music "traditional."
"A lot of people who are new to Indian music don't get that distinction because a lot of people think, 'Oh there's not a drum kit in there, so it's traditional,'" Ahluwalia explains warmly. "'Oh, she's using instruments that I can't buy at Long & McQuade, that I have to go either to India or Indiatown to get; therefore, she's doing traditional music.'
"But rock is a genre. If you had to pinpoint when rock music originated, you'd say maybe the 50s or the 60s. But when people play rock music today, it doesn't mean they're doing 50s music. It's just that that type of music originated at that time."
Ahluwalia describes her passionate ghazals - which deal with matters of love that include flirtation, a lover's larger-than-life reverence, separation anxiety and unrequited love - as poems by contemporary artists, altered in mood and meaning by her own compositions and arrangements. This further convinces me of her own music's inherent newness.
She's reached a strong point in her career. She shows her inventiveness on her latest mesmerizing self-titled disc, tours the world relentlessly and headlines a fusionist's dream show on Tuesday at the Glenn Gould. The event finds the India-born, Toronto-raised artist's distinguished deliveries melding with those of Nova Scotian Celtic vocalist Mary Jane Lamond, Pakistani qawwali singer Shahid Ali Khan and a range of top-pedigree musicians.
"I have no idea what's going to happen," Ahluwalia admits before their first rehearsal.
She does know that to reach this point, she had to engage in a highly traditional learning process.
I hesitate to call her classical music education in Bombay in the 90s gruelling, but even for a labour of love, I'm not sure I could withstand the 12 hours of daily training she underwent at her teachers' home, practising one-on-one, in groups, with a tabla player and solo. This, and not through a university program, is the way the culture's techniques have been imparted for centuries.
Then again, her next phase of study, working with Vithal Rao, one of the last court musicians of the king of Hyderabad, sounds so cool the discipline would be worth it.
"He's got all these crazy stories of the court and royal life, the Raj. He's got stories of teaching the king's 30 wives and of hunting with the king and an entourage of five cooks, some dancing girls, some musicians, some assistant hunters, people who'd carry and put up a gold-embroidered red silk tent every night. That's why he's really a living legend."
Listening to Ahlualia's previous disc, Beyond Boundaries (Triloka/Artemis), again, I'm struck by the arresting quality of her pure voice and the superbly produced collection's eerily beautiful puzzling together of minors and majors.
"My mom and I were talking about my music, and she said to me, 'You've chosen ghazals,'" says Ahluwalia. "I said to her, no, really, ghazals have chosen me."