Kiran Ahluwalia’s ‘Aam Zameen’: Finding common musical ground

Kiran Ahluwalia
Aam Zameen: Common Ground

“Only connect!” goes the famous imperative from E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel “Howards End” — a sentiment that also serves as the motivation for Kiran Ahluwalia’s syncretistic new “Aam Zameen,” a lovely and mesmerizing album made with the nomadic Tuareg band Tinariwen. “Common Ground” is roughly how the record’s title translates from Urdu into English, and that’s just what the Indo-Canadian singer and her Malian collaborators achieve with their intuitive combination of ageless Indian rhythms and contemporary Saharan blues.

The opening track, for example, is a cover of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Sufi classic “Mustt Mustt.” Built around an arrangement featuring syncopated handclaps, tabla and keening rock guitar, Ahluwalia’s version owes as much to the late Pakistani singer’s original as it does to the mantric droning of early Fairport Convention or to Skip Spence’s psychedelic touchstone “Oar.”

“Raqba” adds horns and harmonium to the mix to create a beguiling blend of sensuality and sorrow, while “Matadjem — Waris Shah” incorporates wind instruments before gradually building to an ecstatic vocal climax. In “Saffar,” one of several searching laments, Ahluwalia’s hypnotic soprano hovers above the melody like swirls of dust swept up in a desert wind.

Many of the album’s lyrics, which are translated into English and French in the CD booklet, plumb the spiritual depths of rootlessness and abandonment. Others express grief over bloodshed and strife and find Ahluwalia yearning for reconciliation between divided peoples and cultures, urging, as Forster wrote in “Howards End”: “Only connect! . . . Live in fragments no longer.”

— Bill Friskics-Warren

Cover art for Kiran Ahluwalia's album "Aam Zameen: Common Ground." (Courtesy of Avokado Artists Recordings)

Recommended Tracks

“Mustt Mustt,” “Raqba,” “Saffar”

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