Extraordinary stories from the most interesting artists, writers, athletes, and thinkers on the kaleidoscope of Muslim experience.

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Kiran Ahluwalia

Season 4

EPISODE 3 - Kiran Ahluwalia

This week on the podcast, AR sits down with musician and two-time JUNO winner, Kiran Ahluwalia. Kiran is a true innovator—her songs blend the music of India with influences from Mali and western blues, rock, R&B and jazz to create a sound unlike any other artist. Over the last two decades, Kiran has studied under masters of classical Indian music and collaborated with iconic North African artists, most notably the iconic desert blues group Tinariwen. On this episode, she talks about her new single, Pancake, her decision to leave her career in Canada to study music in India, and her family’s experience of the partition of India.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: This episode of This Being Human contains discussion on the partition of India. It was a time marked by violence, displacement, and trauma. The topic, understandably,  could evoke distress or discomfort. Please take care as you listen. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Welcome to This Being Human, I’m your host Abdul Rehman Malik. On this podcast I talk to extraordinary people from all over the world, whose life, ideas, and art are shaped by Muslim culture. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: I want to do something great that makes my heart stir, that makes other people's hearts stir. And so I want everyone to have that experience. But I want also me to have that experience as well. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Kiran Ahluwalia is a true innovator – someone who pushes boundaries and blends cultures to create truly unforgettable music. She's an award-winning vocalist, composer, and a master of fusing the rich traditions of Indian classical music with the energy of blues, rock, and a good dollop of West African soul. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Kiran's music is a captivating journey, using the music from her native Punjab to explore themes of cultural identity, social justice, and the human experience writ large. We deep dive into her creative process, learn about how her music breaks down barriers, and ultimately, how it brings people together. So, settle in and get ready to be inspired by the artistry of Kiran Ahluwalia!


Abdul-Rehman Malik: I'd like to start with Pancake. I love your latest single, Pancake. But I have to admit that when I first saw the title, I thought I read it wrong. And it's a funny, mischievous track, eminently danceable too as well. I love the kind of the, the humanness and the rawness of the video. But I want you to tell us a little bit about how this song came to be. Tell us the story of how you came to write a Punjabi song called Pancake. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Exactly. Pancake! Well, over the last, I don't know, ten years, maybe eight years. There is a trend in Punjabi music where they use English words. You know the word Obama, swag, Lamborghini. I don't know. And just I just thought of pancake. And I wanted it to be a fun song, a love song, because a lot of Punjabi upbeat songs are fun and about love or some aspect of love or some aspect of chasing your beloved, in a very, like, coquettish, like, you know, fun way. And so I just saw this one time that my husband, who is my guitarist and my producer, Rez Abassi, he and I were boyfriend and girlfriend, and we were vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. This is over 20 years ago. And so we're at an all-inclusive. And I look over at him and he is rather forlorn and disheartened and looking all sad. I looked down at his plate and his pancakes are finished. And it's an all-inclusive. You can eat whatever you want, but he's just looking so sad. And I said, well, you can have my pancake. And he said, I love you. 


Kiran Ahluwalia: And it was just. It was so sincere. And it's just not that. That's been a theme in our marriage. I offer him something sweet and he says, I love you. And so I thought like, this is a good thing to write about. And so I incorporated his personality into it as well. He's not an aggressive human being. So in one of the stanzas it says, he approaches me, slowly, like timidly, himself blushing. So that's very much his personality. He's not actually blushing, but he's very. He's just, you know, he's got this very, like, kind of like slowness and timidness and non-assertive, non-aggressiveness about him. And another way I incorporated his personality into it is I, you know, I said like, you know my love for him is zabar dast. And zabar dast is this word in Urdu and Punjabi that is just like you use it. You don't usually use it for love. You use it for other things. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: That's right, but it's such a beautiful use of it in your song. Like it really hits you like. It's one of those words in our language that is like super emotive, right? When something is zabar dast, it is a real exclamation. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Exactly. You usually use it for like a performance or something. But I'm saying my love for him is zabar dast. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I love it. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: And it's so great that, you know, forget about the great Bulleh Shah, who is a Sufi poet. I myself become a poet, like I myself start writing poetry [laughs].

Abdul-Rehman Malik: So I, I actually that line about Bulleh Shah is such a great line.

Kiran Ahluwalia: Thank you.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And kind of really underscores the mischievousness of the track itself that, you know, Bulleh Shah is at the very heart. Isn't he? This great Punjabi Sufi poet shared by all of our traditions. Tell us a little bit about, about the centrality of poetry, and particularly the poetry of folks like Bulleh Shah, in our Punjabi cultural tradition. Because I think once we get a sense of that, then we know how mischievous you’re actually being. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Yeah, well, thank you for liking that line. My editor. He liked that line. So Bulleh Shah is a 16th century poet. And he was a Sufi poet, living in the region that now falls into Pakistan. And we say Sufi poet because he wrote about love, but he also wrote about love for the divine. But it is very much about forgetting oneself, about not knowing who you are, about discovering who you are. And he's, you know, one of the great poets of Punjabi literature. And so, yeah, you know, I've got my tongue in my cheek when I say that your love creates such magic. What it does to me is that, forget about Bulleh Shah. I myself start writing poetry!

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I think Bulleh Shah would have been very pleased with that line. [laughs] Because, like you said, that poetry is all about, you know, who knows Bulleh? He says in his poetry, right? Who cares about Bulleh? And he's always talking about the, you know, the beloved. I just thought that that your lyric, like, it just kind of opened up this line of thinking. In a way, Kiran, you are continuing the tradition of mischief. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Thank you!

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Do you see yourself as a kind of a mischievous, playful composer, lyricist, musician? 

Kiran Ahluwalia: In some songs, for sure. You know, I don't usually do an album that is focused on one thing. It's so hard to talk about things that are complex. This album is focused on this, but that's just not the reality of it. There's a whole bunch of things happening in this world, absolutely terrible things. And then, you know, absolutely wonderful things as well. So when I'm writing the Punjabi folk songs. I do my more upbeat stuff in the Punjabi folk songs. I definitely bring out that mischievousness, but a lot of this album is also focused on the current rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India and in the Indian diaspora here in Canada and America. And, you know, those songs are a call to everyone to realize that we are from the same root. If you cut you, you cut me. We have the same shade of red that comes out of us. We have the same salty tears. So it's a myriad of emotions. My music reflects all the emotions that I go through.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: There's also this theme that I've noticed, having listened to you for for a long time and and loved your music. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Thank you.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And I think one of the things that kind of emerges for me, album after album is this theme of tradition and innovation. Right? Like, I, I can hear it. It's there, it's the Punjabi music that, you know, I grew up with, that I love in my bones. And then there's that element like, ooh, okay. That's different. That's exciting. When did you first start playing between different genres and seeing what would work and how it would sound? 

Kiran Ahluwalia: To me, I don't really even thinking I'm mixing tradition anymore because tradition is such an ambiguous word. Does that mean music the way it was done 100 years ago, 300 years ago, 50 years ago? What does traditional actually mean? Yeah, I'm singing in Punjabi, but that's a very contemporary language. So is that traditional? Punjabi music is a contemporary genre. So that's not really traditional. It's not Western, but it's not traditional either. So I find that a problematic word, traditional. I'm doing contemporary Indian music that is mixed with sounds of India and the sounds of the West. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I love it, and not only the sounds of the West, right? Your influences are truly global. There's this, you know, this wonderful kind of, adjective that you use in describing your musical style. You call it kind of Indo-Saharan. How does that compositional style, the Indo-Saharan, the contemporary bringing together of different sounds and making them work. How does that happen in you?

Kiran Ahluwalia:  I fell in love with West African music. And Tinariwen was my gateway into that. They are Muslims from the from Mali and Algeria, from the Sahara desert. They're nomads. I thought, let me do something that is classic from the Islamic world. So I did that classic Pakistani Qawwali, Mustt Mustt. And I thought that that would be something new for people who've already heard the Qawwali in South Asia, because they probably haven't heard it with this West African angle of electric guitars, exactly the way Ibrahim plays the electric guitar. And so it'll be a new take for them. It's a woman singing it, which, you know, that version of Mustt Mustt, I never have heard any other woman sing it. And it'll be definitely something that Tinariwen will be familiar with. They're familiar with the call and response that happens in Qawwali. They're familiar with the claps that happen in Qawwali, because they also have hand claps, and they also have call and response in their own music. So these two elements will be familiar to them. The words Ali, Muhammad, all of this will be familiar to them. And I thought, that's how I ended up choosing that song. And then after that, there wasn't any thinking, like, we got into studio together in Paris. And just like, you know, we sat down in a small room to rehearse. That was supposed to be just a rehearsal day. Within the first hour of rehearsal. The producer, Justin Adams, who works with Robert Plant. Within the first hour, he said, let's put up the mics. We're recording this now. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik:  I mean, your music runs, as you talked about earlier, kind of the gamut of emotions. And there's something about this folk music that we can connect to in visceral ways, and and even beyond language, right? You know, folks don't have to understand Punjabi or Urdu or Hindi and are incredibly moved when they hear you sing. And that to me speaks, Kiran, of what I feel is like an underlying and powerful connection to a spiritual and cultural heritage. How does your own Sikh background and your Punjabi culture inform your artistic expression? 

Kiran Ahluwalia: The Sikh religion has a lot of music in it. Our temples are called gurdwaras, and they do a great marketing job. I mean, it's a religion that was started 350 years ago. Even back then, their marketing was great. And I say that because the religion has combined music and food with the temple. With the gurdwara. And sugar, right? [laughs] So gurdwaras have what they call, like, the groups of three men who are doing music. And that music is like nothing that you've ever heard in the world before. And then you get this, like, sweet dish called prasad. So you have, like, your sugar, and then you go down and you have, like this amazing south Asian meal. Punjabi meal. And yeah, you also get closer to God. [laughs] I mentioned that last, in exactly that order. And so, as a child, I had music in my life through my religion. I was also listening to the radio in India, listening to Bollywood. So I also have that. So the Sikh hymns, which we call Shabad, was, they were one aspect of my musical education. I'm not a tremendously religious person. I have a very love-hate relationship with God. Sometimes I believe, sometimes I don't. I do know that when I am in distress, I still turn to communicating with God. And the way I've been taught how to communicate are through the Sikh scriptures. So I will, like, you know, use them to sometimes communicate with God or to go to the gurdwara to get peace of mind. And every time I go to gurdwara, I definitely have peace of mind.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: What was the music that was being played in the Ahluwalia home as you were growing up? And I wonder how that music changed when you came to Canada. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: The music that my parents listened to were ghazal. Ghazals are a form of love poetry that originated in Persia, traveled to India. And are very much Indian, like the Indian ghazal, Pakistani ghazal is very much different than the Persian ghazal. So they listened to a lot of ghazal. Then they also listened to a lot of ‘70s Bollywood, you know, in the ‘70s as I was growing up. And Shabad which is the, you know, Sikh spiritual hymns. And then they would have musical parties. So when they had parties, my parents—

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Oh that's cool! 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Yeah! A lot of their friends were purposely people who liked music. So before we had dinner, we would go around and people who can sing to some degree would sing. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I love it. Wow.

Kiran Ahluwalia: So my mother would sing a song. My dad would sing a song. Other adults would sing a song. Not everybody had to participate, and I as a child would actually sing a song. And then when we came to Canada, that did continue. In the ‘70s, the Indian concerts or Pakistani concerts, at that time, the community had not come of age at that point. And so a lot of these concerts would happen in people's homes and their basements and the word would be spread word-of-mouth by phone call. Like, you know, the person having the concert would literally get on the phone and call 300 people. You know, and, you know, 100 would show up. And you would buy tickets and it didn't have to be a person you know. You like, you found out about the concert somehow and you'd purchase a ticket, and you go to the stranger's house in their basement and you would hear Ghulam Ali! Or Jagjit Singh. These stalwarts of the ghazal genre singing in a basement,you know? Like one feet away from them. I heard them one feet away from them! 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: That's incredible. That's wild, Kiran. That's wild. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: It's a wonderful memory. And in the intermission you would be served this wonderful masala chai and samosas. And then, you know, the concert would continue, and I would always be the only child at those concerts. Because even though at that time I did not understand all the words of the music, there was something about the music that I just loved. And love, it doesn't even. It's a word that has lost its power. I connected to the music. It made my soul and my heart vibrate in a way that nothing else made it vibrate. So that's how, you know, they continued.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: And then you. Was there a point that you started. Did you start, like, formal training in music? Were you already learning musical instruments? Like how does Kiran Ahluwalia take that connection, that love, turned that into, like, your craft?

Kiran Ahluwalia: So my parents were hobby musicians. They competed in their colleges in India. So they were my first teachers of music. And then, they hired a music teacher to come to my home in India to start teaching me music. So I started learning music formally at the age of five. In India. And then when we immigrated to Canada, they found a teacher in Toronto, and I continued learning. So I continued learning music part time, all the way from school to university to my first job in Toronto. And then, when I had my first job, I felt like I could see my future if I was just to continue doing what I'm doing, which is to continue on this corporate ladder and get a managerial job, and I could see myself having a home in the suburbs and I could see, like, the color of the carpet. It would be dusty rose. I have a dog and kids. And so that's when I thought of myself being 90 and on my deathbed. And what is this corporate ladder climbing and what is that all going to mean to me? Is that going to be a life lived that I loved? And the answer was no. So I wanted to do what I wanted to do. So then I quit my job and I went to India to be a full time music student. And I got my classes. I was in India for like a year, year-and-a-half, then I would come back to Canada, make some money, work for CBC, work for Saturday Night magazine, go back to India, come back to Canada, make some money. I did that for about 15 years.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Kiran, that is immersive. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Yeah. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: That's an incredible story. What a remarkable achievement, Kiran. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Thank you. It was tough. So. It was a calling. Definitely. It was a passion. But there's got to be a little bit of insanity in that cocktail. [laughs] Because, you know, this was, my first year in India was 1990. Of full time, doing full time music. There were no cell phones. And in India at that time, if you wanted a landline, you had to wait ten years for it. So I had no phone. I didn't have a TV. And I was living alone in Bombay. And because I was doing seven days of music, eight hours a day. I had no time to make any friends. Even if I had time, there was no way to make friends. So it was an incredibly lonely time. But at the same time I was very, very happy. And at that time I thought, this is just one year, I'm going to do music for one year, I'm going to come back to Canada and I'm going to go back into the corporate world. So it was very special. For me. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: I have a small favour to ask you. If you enjoy this show, there’s a really quick thing you can do to help us make it even better. Just take five minutes to fill out a short survey. This is the Aga Khan museum’s first-ever podcast and a little bit of feedback will help us measure our impact and reach more people with extraordinary stories from some of the most interesting artists, thinkers, and leaders on the kaleidoscope of Muslim experience. To participate, go to agakhanmuseum.org/tbhsurvey. That’s agakhanmusic.org/tbhsurvey.  The link is also in the show notes. Thanks for listening to This Being Human. Now, back to the interview.


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Compassion and empathy appear all over your work. I think back to what you were just saying about this journey, the musical journey that you took in South Asia between India and Pakistan. That must have taken you to all kinds of, you know, to the Sufi shrines, to the Dargahs, to the Mandirs, to the temples of different traditions. And it must have been. It must have been fascinating through the music to be able to sample and to pick up the resonances in each of those places. Did those kind of formative experiences kind of shape this kind of mission of compassion, empathy, and connection that is so much part of your music now?

Kiran Ahluwalia: Hmm. Life in itself has brought that compassion. And it's key people. My ghazal Guruji, Vithal Rao, he's the one I credit with making me a composer. My classical Guruji, Padma Talwalkar, in Bombay is the one I credit with my voice being what it is. The way I throw my voice, the way she opened up my pipes. You know, they're constricted as a as a layperson. You know, she opened up my pipes to let the air flow. And my voice is what it is because of her. I'm a composer because of Vithal Rao. And he's the one I would also credit most with bringing empathy, with figuring out how to have a thought, how to have empathy and how to have a thought, and how to bring that into a composition, and how to bring that into a style of singing. But other than that, it's a very hard question to answer as to where the empathy comes from. It's, it's a conscious choice to bring that into one's music. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Mhm. It's the intentional way that you bring traditions together, as you were describing it, the way in which you collaborate with Tinariwen. There's a lot of care. It feels very profound, Kiran. And it feels like it's coming from right here, right from the heart. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Thank you. But there's definitely a very selfish reason for it. I want my music to sound good! I want it to be a really good project. So I mean, you know, I want to do something great that makes my heart stir, that makes other people's hearts stir, that makes Tinariwen's hearts stir. And so I want everyone to have that experience. But I want also me to have that experience as well.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I love that. Kiran, before we kind of move to our final question. You know, you're now over two decades in the music business, you know, decades before that, you know, a decade and a half, at least, of training. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: You say business. I'm going to say non-profit. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Oh, okay! [laughs]

Kiran Ahluwalia: Nobody's making any money doing the kind of music I do!

Abdul-Rehman Malik: This is the point at which I should have a very good, like, Punjabi Mahavira about, like, where does true wealth come from? But my Punjabi is so. As friends who speak Punjabi tell me, my Punjabi has two broken legs.

Kiran Ahluwalia: So you're from Multan and you guys speak Punjabi?

Abdul-Rehman Malik: We do. We, actually, my father was born in Amritsar and my mother's family is from Jalandhar. And so my father's family spoke Amritsari Punjabi straight and my mother's family spoke Jalandhari Punjabi straight. This actually was an issue when my parents were getting married, because it was like, how can Jalandhari Punjabis and Amritsari Punjabis actually understand each other, even though the language is basically the same? And then—

Kiran Ahluwalia: So where's Multan? Where's Multan in there?

Abdul-Rehman Malik: So partition. After the partition, my father's family eventually settled in Multan and became adopted Multanis. My grandfather learned Saraiki as well, the language of southern Punjab. And my mother's family moved to Rawalpindi. And so my mom was actually born in Rawalpindi. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: My dad is from Pindi. My dad's a Pindi boy. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Oh, is he?!

Kiran Ahluwalia: Yes. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Did he move in '47 to India? 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Yes. They moved in partition to India. So at that time, my dad's father, my dad would have been something like nine or something. And at that time, his father and mother were already in what was going to be India. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Right. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Post-partition India. And, you know, the kids, like 5 or 6 of the children, including my dad, were in the house in Rawalpindi. And so the riots had started and my father and his brothers and sisters would go up on the roof and collect rocks and broken bottles to throw on the crowd to keep the crowd from coming to them. There were terrible times. And then my father's father, my grandfather, said, let's call the kids over to the Indian side for now. And we will return to Rawalpindi once the violence subsides. So my father and his siblings got on a train, a train that would end up with a lot of corpses. And they got to the Indian side thinking that they would return to Rawalpindi in a month. And my father returned to that house 52 years later when I took him there when I was on tour in Pakistan. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: What a, what an incredible moment that must have been for your father.

Kiran Ahluwalia: Yeah. For both. The house owners. Because the house went to the owner's daughter. So, we walked in. And, so she had the house that, you know, was ancestrally my father's house in the land swap that happened. This huge, complicated land swap. And we walked in and we explained who we were and she said, in Urdu, [speaking Urdu], which translates as, “I was waiting for you.” And it's so emotional. And, you know, it's emotional because the two countries have been in a cold war and a de facto war and a real war since partition. But the people of both countries have so much love for each other. And we are brothers. And partition was the loss of a brotherhood. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: I, you know, it's, as you're speaking, Kiran, I feel the emotion of the story, because, you know, we too. My grandparents, too, had that experience, particularly my grandmother, my Nani, who was quite young and had a stepson at that point. She was in her late teens. And, you know, the life that she knew was this incredible village life in Jalandhar, you know, a Muslim village built around the shrine, you know, and, she came in the other direction from Jalandhar to Lahore, and she was in one of those infamous convoys, you know, 17 miles long, where, you know, the back of the convoy would reach where the front of the convoy was and there would be the signs of horrific violence. And, unfortunately, no member of either my father's family or my mother's family has ever been able to go back to Jalandhar or Amritsar. I once had a visa and then the border closed. That was the closest. That was the closest that we got. And, you know, I was lucky enough, I guess, to speak to my grandfather before he passed. And he would describe the neighborhood and the mosque. And I found them all on Google Maps. You know, I've looked at it electronically. I said, oh, there's the, there's the masjid. Those are the streets where, where Daada and my Paradada would have lived. And I even found, after many years, because my Nani didn't really read and write. And so it was all memories. And she had the name of her village, and it was a name that didn't quite make sense to me. And then I found it. I found the village, and I found, you know, she had mentioned, oh, you know, in the village, there was this mazar of a Sufi saint. And I found the mazar all, you know, on the kind of electronic—

Kiran Ahluwalia: What was the village?

Abdul-Rehman Malik: It is called Adraman. And it's on the banks of one of the rivers. And she would always joke with me because my name is Abdul-Rehman. And she would always joke, she goes, beta, she goes, my village, you know, it was named after you. [laughs] And I said, Nani, I wasn't even around then! She goes, they kind of knew. So she'd say Adraman is like Abdul-Rehman. So she would call me her Adraman. Endearingly. Which is just, you know, the experience of partition. To have to have that experience, to be there with your dad, and to have experienced that kind of love and connection moves me to tears. And it's really powerful. And it is so hope giving. And I don't think it was until much later in life. And how it was for you, that I really, I think, contended with how much the experiences and the traumas of partition influenced all the decisions our families ended up making, and in so many ways influenced the way even that we see the world. Like I think about. You talk about connection. What a beautiful connection to return to that home. And for the person who's in that home to say, [speaking Urdu]. We're waiting for you. What a powerful, human, beautiful, heart connection, generosity, hospitality. And as much as I think partition teaches us about violence, it also teaches that in the face of violence and separation, we find connection. And I wonder how much partition sort of influences our own paths. I would venture a fair bit. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Definitely for us. So my theory is that the people who lived through partition, like my parents and my husband. I'm sorry to make you cry! I didn’t mean to do that.

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Not at all. Not at all. No, no, you have nothing to apologize for. But it's appropriately evocative, and important to your story and my story and to our story. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Here I am using my own tissue paper! So my take on it is that the people who lived through partition, like my parents, who went into post-partition India, and my husband, Rez Abbasi's parents, who went into post-partition Pakistan. They lived it. And so they saw the violence firsthand. They experienced it. And because they experienced how horrific human beings can be. They saw the loss of humanity. It's that that made them think that this cannot be repeated. This inhumanity cannot be repeated. We are one of the same. And my parents, when I was growing up, and even in my young adult life, never mentioned the atrocities of partition to me. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Same, same, same, Kiran. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: Yeah. When I went back to Pakistan and I took my dad back to Pakistan, that's the first time he told me about what happened in partition. So my parents never passed down any hatred for the other side to me. And that is what allowed me to fall in love with someone from the enemy country, Pakistan. And that is what allowed my parents and his parents to come together, to love each other. No Bollywood drama in our wedding. Whereas when I meet people from other areas of North India that did not experience partition in the same way, where their trauma has not been passed down generationally from their parents, they have more of a hatred for Pakistan. And similarly, you know, Pakistan. Those similar Pakistanis, you know, that haven't experienced that partition have a hatred for Hindustan, for India. So it's very, very, very difficult when I talk to people in India who have this. You know, who think of the two of us as different people. It's very difficult. I would say I’ve found it impossible to show people that we are the same. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Well your music, Kiran, continues to do so much in terms of that connection and compassion and, you know, I think these partition stories give us an insight into the kind of people we become with the kind of work that we do. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Kiran, tell me about a joy or a meanness that came to you recently as an unexpected visitor. 

Kiran Ahluwalia: I’m gonna say, it’s the joy is, you know, me singing about the fact that we are one people. And…what's a recent joy? Making the videos for my new songs has been a wonderful, wonderful joy. We went out into the Mojave Desert three hours outside of Los Angeles to shoot the video Tera Jug. And that was a wonderful feeling. It was really amazing. And music itself is the joy. 

Abdul-Rehman Malik: Kiran, that was really lovely. Thank you so much.

Kiran Ahluwalia: Thank you, Abdul-Rehman. 


Abdul-Rehman Malik: Kiran’s new album, Comfort Food, which includes the song Pancake, just came out and is available wherever you stream music. This Being Human is presented by the Aga Khan Museum. Through the arts, the Aga Khan Museum sparks wonder, curiosity, and understanding of Muslim cultures and their connection with other cultures. This Being Human is produced by Antica Productions in partnership with TVO. Our senior producer is Imran Ali Malik. Our associate producer is Emily Morantz. Our executive producers are Laura Regehr and Stuart Coxe.

Mixing and sound design by Phil Wilson. Our associate audio editor is Cameron McIver. Original music by Boombox Sound. Shaghayegh Tajvidi is TVO’s Managing Editor of Digital Video and Podcasts. Laurie Few is the executive for digital at TVO.

In this episode, Kiran talks about….

  • Her new single, Pancake. 
  • Her decision to move to India to study music. 
  • Challenging the meaning of “traditional.” 
  • The influence of poetry on her work. 


 “We have the same shade of red that comes out of us. We have the same salty tears… My music reflects all the emotions that I go through.”

 “And what is this corporate ladder climbing and what is that all going to mean to me? Is that going to be a life lived that I loved? And the answer was no. So I wanted to do what I wanted to do. So then I quit my job and I went to India to be a full time music student.” 

“I want to do something great that makes my heart stir, that makes other people's hearts stir, that makes Tinariwen's hearts stir. And so I want everyone to have that experience. But I want also me to have that experience as well.” 

Learn more about Kiran:

Follow Kiran on Instagram 

Learn more about Kiran’s music, and check out her new album “Comfort Food”

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