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Kiran Ahluwalia's LOVEfest presented by Small World Music

One in Seven Billion: Kiran Ahluwalia Launches LOVEFest, an Ecstatic Evening of Sikh and Islam-Inspired Art Designed to Spark Cross-Cultural Connection.
Ahluwalia created LOVEfest, a direct musical response to the ignorance and animosity many visible minorities and faith communities face. She brings together two performers closely tied to tradition and faith practice, both rarely enjoyed outside of their home communities, a Shabad Kirtan (Sikh Spirituals) ensemble (Bhai Kabal Singh Group, heard for the very first time on the concert stage) and an Egyptian dervish (Yasser Darwish, performing tanoura, a dance practice tied to Sufi ritual). To present other, more contemporary voices in broadening counterpoint, Ahluwalia performs her own music, originals based on Indian and Malian styles, and Western blues and rock, many from her new album Seven Billion (out May 4, 2018 on Six Degrees). She also invites elegant, arresting Algerian singer-songwriter Souad Massi to share her highly regarded perspective.

The seeds of LOVEfest grew from Ahluwalia’s own experiences as an Indian-born Canadian growing up in a complex cultural context. “As an immigrant child, the hardships we faced were touted as temporary, but the effects were permanent. On the one hand, I developed a wonderful double culture, two sets of wardrobe and multiple languages to think in. On the other, I developed conflicting etiquettes and ways of doing things that were neither ‘fully’ Indian nor ‘fully’ Canadian,” muses Ahluwalia.

Her struggles, she grasped, were not just her own: “Wherever we live, the majority’s way of doing things becomes the norm, and whatever is different and foreign can easily be mistrusted. The consequence in a large immigrant-based population in countries like Canada and the US can be cultural intolerance and difficulty in embracing newness.” Sometimes this suspicion erupts into full-blown violence and violation, as the rising numbers of hate crimes aimed at Sikhs and Muslims across North America post-9/11 demonstrate.

Newness bursts from the precisely timed swirling of Darwish’s vivid skirts, from the rich voices that usually only ring out inside the gurdwara (Sikh temple). It is framed by more familiar, but still fresh perspectives from two powerful women artists whose music acknowledges their heritage, yet departs from it in intriguing, relatable ways.

In the end, for all the external novelty of the performances, LOVEfest suggests that there are universal elements and themes that resound throughout these songs and movements. “Souad and I sing of the human condition, our personal stories as women and the stories of our communities in turmoil,” notes Ahluwalia. “This humanity runs through the work of all the other participants of LOVEfest as well.”