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Kiran Ahluwalia
Comfort Food
Artist release
Review by Lisa Sahulka
Photo by Yann Serrand


cd cover Kiran Ahluwalia’s new album Comfort Food is rich, provocative and, like the moral universe, it bends toward justice.

Ahluwalia is an Indian born, Canadian singer who marries ghazal, a type of Indian classical vocalizing, with Punjabi folk, sufi music and jazz. She is married to the jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi, a much loved musician who performs his Pakistani infused rhythms in this collaboration. He makes the complexity of jazz resonate with a moral authority, a trait that earns him the ranking of one of the top ten guitarists in the annual Downbeat International Critics Poll.

Music of the Month Ahluwalia and Abbasi were meant for each other, one born in Pakistan, the other in India, both now living in their adopted Harlem home a few steps from Central Park. This love story began over a breakfast in Mexico when Ahluwalia shared her meal with Abbasi, which is detailed in “Pancakes” and provides the duality for the album title.

The other part of the comfort is the effort to fight for justice, to protest, to fight the good fight. Ahluwalia’s songs are profound and enduring, They are specifically a protest against Hindu fundamentalism and ethnic nationalism, but also they call for the world to shed anachronistic beliefs which subjugate, marginalize and ultimately abandon the most in need, as we see in Palestine right now.


“Ban Koulchi Redux” features the influence of North African music through a collaboration with the Algerian singer/songwriter Souad Massi. They implore us to:

Leave behind the world’s chatter
The babble is centuries old.

Find me a place where rituals don’t matter
Where customs fall like leaves
Where the past is left behind.


In “Tum Dekhoge” Ahluwalia uses a protest poem by Hussain Haidry, written in protest of the Indian Citizenship Amendment Act, which marginalizes the Muslim population by restricting their path to citizenship.

You will see
It’s necessary for you to see too
This night spent on the streets, this ice in our breath,
This night of tyranny and injustice, will be in your fate too
When the tyrant attacks you and you will stifle your screams
If you beg for justice and get beaten instead
When in saffron cages, everyone will eat roti dipped in water
All our dead faces will then appear before your eyes
We will come to curse you, spit on your face
Hindustan will just be a word - which will be scared, cowardly
hell and also slaughterhouse – then you will lament
That I was there and so were you
And the tyrant will laugh at you
That I was there and so were you

Ahluwalia’s advocacy work for social justice and gender equality is prevalent throughout the album. She encourages listeners to cast off the traditional restrictions of Indian society, particularly the social constraints on women. This leads to “Dil” where she expresses, in modern Punjabi folk style, the desire to throw away shame. Ahluwalia explains that “When it comes to exhibiting physical desire – there’s a double standard the world over. Society is tolerant of men expressing physical desires publicly, yet women frequently face unjust scrutiny and shame for doing the same. This song is about ignoring societal norms and parading my desires publicly without shame.”


Her love songs are equally compelling. The composition “Har Khalyal” is a beautiful and sad love song, blending her vocals with guitar riffs that Abbasi had created one morning and that she found particularly mesmerizing.. This is one of the love songs on the album detailing the blend of feelings one has after a breakup. She sings that “Not every thought of you is seeped in sadness” and “the flower fades, still the garden needs to be.” These are beautiful, timeless lyrics that express the duality of human emotions, loving/hating simultaneously.

The instrumentation is irresistible. Bouncy accordion from Canadian Louis Simao, Rich Brown on bass, drummer Davide Derenzo, percussionists Mark Duggan and Joaquín Núñez, and on tabla Ravi Naimpally bringing his decades of experience in Toronto’s South Asian music scene.

Comfort Food is thoughtful, with rich lyrics, a solid classical Indian music base and highly danceable, funky grooves. The album can be taken on a variety of levels making it highly accessible. Such a combination makes the struggle to bend the arc of the moral universe seem alluringly possible.

Find the artist online.

cd cover
Comfort Food is our selection for Music of the Month for April, 2024.

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