The Mindful Bard – Sanata (Stillness)

Necessity is the Mother of Enlightenment

Album: Sanata (Stillness)
Artist: Kiran Ahluwalia

“Those who speak my tongue are unevenly scattered. Still, I collect conversations. I may run into someone. I’ve been your refugee, life, oh life.”

– “Hayat” by Kiran Ahluwalia, from Sanata

As we drew closer to Rue Jean Talon: “Music,” my guy announced. “Let’s go listen.”

As we drew closer to Place de la Gare the sound kept growing sweeter. Here were a few excellent musical elements?tabla, classical Indian rhythms, Malian guitar, dramatic, pitch-perfect vocal delivery, and tight performance?beautifully blended together by a tiny band lead by the enchanting Kiran Ahluwalia.

She was performing as part of a series of free concerts called Hors Les Murs (de la maison de la culture), a summertime program of world class acts delighting the denizens of Villeray, Saint-Michel, and Parc-Extension, her fabulous voice accompanied by masters of the tabla, accordion, and guitar.

Her husband, renowned jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi, had a style informed by jazz, blues, Tuareg, Gnawa, and classical sitar music. His low-key stage presence was a testament to a deeply introspective commitment to his art, and his guitar’s gritty sensuality rose blissfully to the transcendence to which Kiran’s voice summoned it.

As for the accordion player, though limited to Western notes he still infused the accordion with an Indian flavour by skillfully following, as well as countering, the rhythms of the tabla. And the tabla carried it all, whipping out beats that flowed and surged like rapids, bearing everyone along while responding with sensitivity to Kiran’s every change of direction.

This kind of performance naturally attracts willowy bohemian women doing interpretive dance, and there was no dearth of those, but Kiran was hardly airy-fairy; between songs she shared bits of universal wisdom, explaining that this song was about the saboteur inner voice, that song about necessity being the mother of enlightenment, etc. It’s clear that Kiran has mindfully travelled the road of higher consciousness.

Later, after looking her up online, I was amazed I hadn’t heard of her before (note to self: keep up with Juno winners). Born in India, Kiran moved to Toronto with her family when she was nine, but remained immersed in Indian music, studying it while pursuing conventional studies.

She completed an MBA at Dalhousie before deciding to return to India to study music. Her career switch was a gift to the world; this beautiful mind holds an artistic sensibility informed by the discipline of ancient traditions but interprets these traditions so playfully and creatively that her music can’t help but please even the tinniest ear.

Sanata is her most recent album. The word means “stillness,” but It’s the most vibrant and intense stillness you’ll ever encounter. She calls her music “Indo-Saharan,” which is truly apt. The title track starts out with Tuareg rhythms under Kiran singing a sombre melodic line that moves into some surprising musical intervals (a distinguishing mark of her sound), and then into intense singing that sounds like an exhortation to take the right things seriously and forget the rest.

“Jhoom” features some male background vocals and more of that wonderful Malian-style guitar playing. “Lament” starts with ominous minor melodies, and it rises, via ambient sounds, to a defiant rhythm and then a brilliant fusion jazz guitar solo and a triumphant vocal.

“Hayat” is positively thrilling, launched by a brilliant guitar and soon joined by Kiran’s voice and a male vocal. Like many of her songs it begins with a dark, ominous sound and moves into a festive, danceable gladness. (On this track and “Jhoom” you can also hear that same amazing accordion that was so mesmerising at the park performance.)

Sanata manifests seven of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen.

– It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
– It stimulates my mind.
– It provides respite from a cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor.
– It’s about attainment of the true self.
– It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
– It makes me want to be a better artist.
– It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.