Kiran Ahluwalia celebrates Courage & Diversity

« Kiran Ahluwalia occupies a very special place in the vocal music of the Indian subcontinent. Her chameleonic versatility enables her to move seamlessly between classical, traditional (folk), Sufi and contemporary styles. » World Music Report

« . charismatic, joyful and carefree, she has undeniable star power. » NOW magazine

‘7 Billion’ is the new album sung in Urdu from the multi-award winning Indian/Canadian singer-songwriter Kiran Ahluwalia. Global in perspective, yet deeply personal, ‘7 Billion’ comprises songs of courage and cultural diversity. It is a strident album melding Indian vocals atop African blues, R&B, rock and jazz, arranged by Downbeats Critics Poll Top 10 guitarist and Kiran’s life partner, Rez Abbasi.

The title track ‘Saat’ (seven) celebrates individual expression as the lyrics say, « Seven billion ways of doing things/Seven billion winding paths/Each with its own peculiar questions/Infinite answers/All relevant ». ‘Saat’ is a powerful and vocally dynamic song that sparked the creative process for ‘7 Billion’, unfolding issues prevalent in Kiran’s own life,

« Cultural diversity is a theme close to my personal experience. My story is that of an immigrant born in India and raised in Canada. As an immigrant child the hardships we faced were touted as temporary – the effects were permanent. I developed conflicting etiquettes and ways of doing things that were neither ‘fully’ Indian nor ‘fully’ Canadian. The earth now holds seven billion people; for me this means there are seven billion unique ways of doing things ».

The number 7 has special importance for Kiran. From the age of seven, Kiran immersed herself in the musical sounds of her birthplace, Patna, India. Her family migrated to Canada while Kiran was a child but the pull to explore and develop the music of her birthplace remained strong. After a full education in Canada that resulted in a Masters of Business Administration, Kiran entered the world of Investment Banking and found it lacking the fulfilment that she had found in music. At a critical moment in her career, Kiran paused to reflect on life without music, a life spent climbing the corporate ladder,

« I would excel at work, save money, get married, get a house in the suburbs and keep climbing the corporate ladder and then all of a sudden I’d be 90 and on my death bed… I quit my job and went to India to be a full-time student of vocal Indian music. I thought I would do this for a year but that year got extended into a decade. »

Choosing a career path in the arts, Kiran had to overcome family resistance and advise from friends urging the security of a ‘normal life’. We hear echoes of these struggles in the album’s opening song ‘Khafa’ (Up In Arms) which reflects on these struggles and Kiran’s inner turmoil and disillusionment of losing hope of attaining a direct relationship with ‘God’ or ‘The Universe’, as Kiran reflects, ‘Suddenly the world was upside down/I got lost I wonder where? »

‘7 Billion’ features songs of challenging times and courage as in ‘Kuch Aur’ (Something Else), ‘. bring a new era/bring a new courage here.’ The song questions the status quo and asks the universe to show her what else it has to offer, closing with ‘. If you’re going to live, live now or don’t live at all.’ Kiran appeals to break with restrictive traditions as in ‘Jhoomo’ (Sway), a plea to learn from each other and remove the walls of hate, « let go of tradition. let go of the tug of war ».

Kiran composed all the music and lyrics on ‘7 Billion’ except for ‘We Sinful Women’ whose lyrics were penned by Pakistan’s most well-loved feminist poet, Kishwar Naheed, from ‘A Collection of Contemporary Urdu Feminist Poetry’. ‘We Sinful Women’ is a statement for the independence and empowerment of women, breaking down the walls of how women are labelled. The perfect choice for Kiran Ahluwalia.

Kiran Ahluwalia’s career is marked by innovative collaborations such as ‘Aam Zameen: Common Ground’ with legendary Malian group Tinariwen, produced by Justin Adams of Robert Plant fame. The YouTube video published by Musique du Monde featuring Kiran Ahluwalia performing ‘Mustt Mustt’ with Tinariwen has now reached over 1.5 million views:

Kiran produced ‘Punjabi Love Songs in a Northern Light’ with Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster and ‘Wanderlust’, a quest of Urdu poetry, Portuguese fado and gentle Saharan grooves. Earlier this year, Kiran created, and produced her biggest tour project to date, LOVEfest, to integrate culturally diverse musicians with mainstream audience-goers across an eight-city tour including Boston, Toronto and sold out audiences in Seattle and San Francisco. Audiences were treated to the songs on ‘7 Billion’ performed by Kiran and band, alongside Sikh spirituals by the Bhai Kabal Singh Group, Egyptian whirling dervish by Yasser Darwish and Souad Massi – the most successful Algerian female singer-songwriter in the Arabic speaking world. Kiran and Souad also worked on a collaboration to be released in the near future. This was the perfect platform for music to break down cultural difference, to ‘welcome the stranger’ as Kiran says,

« LOVEfest was my biggest tour project in that we had 4 groups – 14 people on tour. We had marvellous audiences and it was a huge pleasure to bring music and dance from the Sikh and Islamic cultures to audiences in North America. In the future, I will release a song that I did with Algerian singer Souad Massi. »

‘7 Billion’ is an album from a singer who has made a successful career from re-inventing musical traditions, as Kiran says « . in 2000 I recorded my first CD and was at the right place and time to get a manager and agent and subsequently concert tours and now here I am with my 7th album. » ‘7 Billion’ was released in April 2018 through the USA label, Six Degrees. It’s proof that Kiran Ahluwalia is 1 in 7 billion.

7 Billion Musicians:

Kiran Ahluwalia – vocals & compositions
Rez Abbasi – guitars

Louis Simao -organ, accordion, synth

Rich Brown – electric bass

Davide Direnzo – drum kit

Nitin Mitta – tabla

Mark Duggan – djembe, hand percussion

Track list: 7 Billion /Kiran Ahluwalia
1: Khafa (Up In Arms) – 3:47
2: Saat (Seven) – 5:55
3: Kuch Aur (Something Else) – 5:18
4: Raina (Night) – 5:27
5: Jhoomo (Sway) – 4:33
6: We Sinful Women – 5:33

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