Kiran Ahluwalia | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Kiran Ahluwalia

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The ghazal, a form of vocal music that originated in Persia before migrating to India in the 12th century, takes its name from an Arabic word meaning "to talk amorously with women." More pointedly, Toronto-based singer and composer Kiran Ahluwalia calls the ghazal a "highly literate pickup line." Born in India to Punjabi parents, she first learned the music growing up in Toronto in the 70s, later traveling to Hyderabad to study with ghazal master Vithal Rao. Her self-titled third album on Triloka, her first in wide release, includes remixed and remastered versions of the ghazals and Punjabi folk songs from her earlier releases, kicking off with the brief, bouncy "Vo Kuch" ("Passion"), with lyrics about a schoolgirl's crush written by Pakistani-Canadian homemaker-poet Tahira Masood. Ahluwalia has a sweet, earthy mezzo-soprano, and as a songwriter she adheres to tradition, like the dhol drums and flute on "Meri Gori Gori" ("Yellow Bangles"), a Punjabi folk song. But she also adds some modern touches, foregrounding guitar melodies--played by her husband, Rez Abbasi--and bringing in Nova Scotian fiddler Natalie MacMaster for a handful of tracks; on the catchy "Jhanjra" ("Ankle Bells") and "Rahb da Roop" ("Image of Heaven"), the addition of MacMaster's Celtic style makes for an intoxicating hybrid. For this show Ahluwalia, who plays tanpura (a stringed drone instrument), will be backed by Abbasi on guitar, Ashok Bidaye on harmonium, and Narendra Budhakar on tabla. Sun 8/21, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $15.

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