Kiran Ahluwalia is an example of a pioneering artist of the first order. Her method is to take ghazals, Arabic or Persian poems from her native India about deep-seated love or pain, and arrange them into her own format. For this latest work, she has chosen to use her own words to bring personal meaning to the tradition that was previously the realm of Indian and Pakistani poets; she now sees herself as contemporary composer, simply using on older structure to tell new stories. These ancient poems are the product of the mixing of Indian, Persian and Arabic cultures and Kiran, as an Indian-born Canadian, has been bringing it to the West with her dazzling voice and compositions. But she adds much more than that to make her final all-encompassing sound.
On first listen, there are a vast number of instruments on Aam Zameen : Common Ground. Kiran incorporates the wavering guitar of Malian rockers Tinariwen, Irish fiddle, accordion, trumpet and a trunk-full of shimmering Asian percussion. Tracks such as “Saffar” exemplify her taste for fusing cultures in brilliantly bizarre way. It starts with the fast strumming of an American rock hit, which Kiran matches beautifully with her steady vocals, leading the song into a contemplative middle section before the Indian percussion returns it to high speed.
Although all these influence could come end up being messy or else un-centered, in Ahluwalia’s able hands, the compositions come across as intentional and, strangely calming. This is due to the choice of instruments with a consistent emotional tenor. European, African and Indian instrumental voices flutter in and out, but all maintain a tone of nostalgia, joy,serenity or, most often, a mix somewhere in the middle. There is an enigmatic quality to the meandering parts of Common Ground, but what leads it all is Kiran’s powerful voice. Never overpowering, it leads the songs onwards in their search for perfect balance.