As a young woman, Indo-Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia immersed herself in the study of Punjabi folk music and ghazals, an ancient poetic form from Persia that concerns itself with love in its many guises, from human to divine. She studied Indian classical music as a girl before moving to Canada, but left music to get a straight job after graduating from college. But music keep calling her back, so she went back to India to study ghazal with Vithal Rao, one of the acknowledged masters of the form. Back in Canada, she began composing her own ghazals and exploring ways of fusing Indian and Western styles. She's collaborated with Portuguese fado artists, Celtic fiddlers, and New York jazz musicians, and continues to build new musical bridges on Common Ground. The three opening tracks here are collaborations with the Tuareg bands Tinariwen and Terakaft. Tinariwen joins her on a simmering arrangement of what is probably Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's best-known song "Mustt Mustt." Eyadou Ag Leche's serpentine bass, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib's chiming guitar and the syncopated handclapping of the ensemble pull you into an ecstatic whirlwind as Ahluwalia praises the bliss one feels when united with the almighty. Her vocal ornamentations follow the ebb and flow of Tinariwen's pulsating groove. When she engages in a call and response with the male voices the effect is transcendent. (The album closes with an extended version of the song that gives her even more room to show off her impressive vocal skills.) Jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi, Ahluwalia's musical director, opens "Rabba Ru" with a raga-based improvisation that gives way to the dual guitar wizardry of Terakaft's Sanou Ag Ahmed and Liya Ag Ablil (aka Diara). The performance is more sedate, with Ahmed and Ablil contributing mellow vocal harmonies. On "Raqba," Ahluwalia and her band join the guitarists of Terakaft; the track's highlight is a sinuous, meandering, muted trumpet solo by Ibrihim Maalouf. Ahluwalia's band is just as compelling alone. "Saffar" is a quiet, meditative track featuring Abbasi's acoustic guitar virtuosity, cello, and tabla which support a gentle vocal and a lyric that suggests the home you're searching for may be in your own heart. She adapts the melody of Tinariwen's "Matadjem" to deliver a plea for peace and harmony that borrows a sinuous Tuareg groove and augments it with the sound of ritti (Gambian one-string fiddle), koloko (Gambian two-string lute/banjo), and tabla for a bit of West African flavor.
AllMusic Review by j. poet