With this first international release, the India-born, Toronto-based vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia-winner of a 2004 Juno Award-aspires to be one of this generation's premier South Asian diaspora artists. A native of Punjab, Ahluwalia says that her specialty is ghazal, a centuries-old style in which impassioned, gorgeously evocative love poems are set to music. Indeed, this release shows her commitment to ghazals: along with three traditional Punjabi songs, the rest of the tunes here are Ahluwalia's own compositions, setting contemporary poems penned by fellow Canadian desis (South Asians).
The idea of presenting ghazals for a contemporary East/West audience isn't new; Ahluwalia elicits immediate comparisons to a 1990s singer, the U.K.-based Najma Akhtar, who mined a similar groove over the course of several albums. While Ahluwalia's compositional colors are enticing-and made even more vivid by the appearance of master Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster on tracks like "Jhanjra"-she falls flat as a performer. With a thin, unremittingly sweet tone that possesses no heft or oomph, Ahluwalia sounds more like a schoolgirl in her first recital than a full-blooded woman singing of love, longing and loss.