MONMOUTH — Award-winning musician Kiran Ahluwalia, 53, will take the stage on Saturday for Western Oregon University’s Smith Fine Arts series.
Ahluwalia’s diverse cultural background can be heard in her in music.
She was born in India, raised in Canada and lives New York City.
Ahluwalia uses vocal traditions of India and Pakistan and her compositions express her Indian heritage, as well as influences from West African blues and contemporary jazz, according to her biography.
“I write my songs in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi, because I have a lifetime of training in Indian song forms,” Ahluwalia said. “I’m a language person, so I like all languages. I often try to write songs in English — perhaps one day I’ll record one of them.”
She said the language she writes in affects the process.
“There are words that don’t directly translate,” Ahluwalia said. “There are certain words that you can use in English that aren’t available in the same way in Indian languages. For example, I’ve often wanted to make a song about my angst towards certain injustices — personal and global — and I want to use swear words. But in Indian languages, swear words don’t fit in that well into a song form. Regardless I’ve researched and gathered a lot of swear words in Hindi/Punjabi, hoping to use them one day in a song.”
She originally wrote “Kuch Aur,” a song from her most recent album “7 Billion,” in English.
“In this case the English chorus was, ‘I’ve been doin’ it all wrong/been living this life so badly all along,’” Ahluwalia said. “When I decided I wasn’t quite ready to do this song in English, I translated the chorus as directly as I could, but I wrote the rest of the song in Hindustani with fresh concepts.”
While music has been a lifelong love for Ahluwalia, she didn’t record and release her first album until 2000, after leaving a career in finance.
“The transition was pretty brutal,” she said. “After completing an MBA in finance, I had landed a coveted job on the trading floor at a major bank. Right from day one, I was quite unhappy there and often thought of leaving.”
She stayed because of the years she had invested in her degree.
“I thought I was quitting or failing, when really leaving the bank was moving ahead and making the space to find out what I would like more,” Ahluwalia said.
When the bank moved her to another area, she had her opening to exit, she said.
“I had nothing else in hand to go to, and so life was confusing, stressful and vacant,” Ahluwalia said. “I had been doing Indian music since I was a child, and so I had this as a passion but not yet as a career. A few Indian classical dancers found out that I was off work, and I got hired to compose and tour with them. I did this for a year before landing a job in radio at (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).”
In retrospect, “quitting/being pushed off the trading floor was one of the best things that happened to me, because it eventually led to my career in music.”
Ahluwalia hopes to communicate through her music and is looking forward to performing at WOU with her six-piece band, led by artistic partner Rez Abbasi.
“Be it happiness, melancholy or wonder, I hope for the audience to feel what the song is conveying through the melodies, harmonies and rhythms,” she said. “I’m looking forward to entertaining them and spending a wonderful evening together.”
For more about Ahluwalia, visit: www.KiranMusic.com
See the show
What: Smith Fine Arts Series presents Kiran Ahluwalia
When: 7:30 p.m. On Dec. 7
Where: Rice Auditorium, WOU
Tickets: $25 for adults; $11 for non-WOU students; free for WOU students with ID beginning at 6 p.m. at the auditorium.
Advance tickets: wou.edu/smith/single-tickets