Kiran Ahluwalia’s sixth release further explores the intersection of Indian and Pakistani grooves, jazz and Saharan blues. 2011’s Aam Zameen: Common Ground saw Ahluwalia join forces with Tuareg groups Tinariwen and Terakaft as she grew fascinated with the sounds of the desert. Instead of working strictly within the confines of ghazal poetry, she began writing her own words to accompany Tuareg rhythms. Sanata: Stillness draws on the foundation of her previous album and continues incorporating guitar-driven cyclical patterns into her compositions.
The album opens with “Hayat,” which immediately introduces Rez Abbasi’s distorted guitar playing underneath Ahluwalia’s vocals. Abbasi, Ahluwalia’s husband, also serves as the producer and arranger and his guitar work, a hybrid of jazz and pentatonic blues, is featured throughout the record. Kiran Thakrar adds great depth on harmonium and Nitin Mitta keeps the rhythm pulsing on tabla with electric bass and percussion holding everything together. Ahluwalia’s voice is bright and passionate as she sings about being an immigrant living abroad, not just as an Indian living in Canada, but also as a Canadian now living in the United States.
“Jaane Na” is a driving track that captures the essence of an internal struggle. Abassi’s dextrous jazz phrases take command as Ahluwalia sings about facing her troubles, refusing to let them run her aground. The frenetic pace of the track, fueled by the propulsive tabla, is balanced by the slow sustain of the vibraphone in the background.
Sanata: Stillness reaches it’s climax with “Jhoom,” a classic qawalli about letting go of one’s inhibitions and enjoying the intoxicating pleasure of wine. The band really comes together on this track with everything neatly slotting into place. The group vocal chorus builds with the guitar and harmonium expertly adding textured layers for Ahluwalia’s voice to soar above.
“Lament,” a track written by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, closes the record. This mysterious song with heavily distorted guitar, organ, vibraphone, electric bass and drum kit skirts outside of any boundaries and draws on contemporary influences as Abassi gets creative with guitar loops and phrases while Ahluwalia is at her improvisational best. This is the most experimental track on the album and is easily one of the most interesting.
Sanata: Stillness is a rewarding album even though the pace is slightly uneven at times. “Jhoom” and “Lament” capture an originality and intensity that is hard to match and the softer tracks get a bit pushed aside as a result. Even still, Ahluwalia and Abassi are a fascinating team who continue to develop fresh ideas together.
Originally published in RootsWorld Magazine.