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Kiran Ahluwalia presents LoveFest: Welcome the Stranger

One in Seven Billion: Kiran Ahluwalia and Souad Massi Joins Forces for an Evening of Cross-Cultural Connection
Kiran Ahluwalia sat down one day and wrote a song, “Saat.” Its title, the number seven, reflected the seven billion quirky, distinct individuals on our shared planet. It tackled the nature of our widespread intolerance of one another. “The earth now holds seven billion people; for me this means there are seven billion unique ways of interpreting things,” she explains.

The song resonated. It was powerful. (It appears on her upcoming album.) But the two-time Juno-winning Indian-Canadian singer and composer wasn’t ready to stop there. “Having written the song, I still felt helpless about doing something about it. I wanted to bring about change, to reach out with the opposite of hatred,” says Ahluwalia. “I wanted to do more than sing about it. I wanted to bring music and dance from ‘outside’ in, and spark curiosity and connection.”

Ahluwalia invited elegant, arresting Algerian singer-songwriter Souad Massi to help her create a direct musical response to the ignorance and animosity many visible minorities and faith communities face. Contemporary voices that cross cultural and stylistic boundaries, Ahluwalia and Massi will play their original pieces and present their perspectives with songs that draw on and defy the traditions of their respective heritage.

The seeds of this shared concert 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.

Ahluwalia longed to counteract this dynamic by presenting audiences with more familiar, but still fresh perspectives of two powerful women artists whose music touches on universal elements and themes. “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 our work and is easy to hear, even if you are new to our musical backgrounds.”

Ahluwalia is accustomed to uniting seemingly disparate sounds and unexpected groups, an alchemist of cross-cultural collaboration. She created an entire album exploring how the bittersweet world of Portuguese fado can converse with Indian sounds, and she embraced the stark grooves of Saharan blues with friends Tinariwen, to dive into qawwali gems. Her work, like many of the poems and forms that inspire her, speaks simultaneously to earthly desires and lofty calls of the divine, the feel of R&B, rock and the nuance of jazz with the Punjabi folk and Indian classical music that formed the basis of her extensive vocal training. Massi, in her latest songs, has expanded her musical vocabulary by drawing on the sound and spirit of the American blues.

Ahluwalia longed to focus the love into one compelling evening. She had long admired Massi and, after months of attempting to track the singer down, finally heard that Massi had been following Ahluwalia’s work as well. “It just feels like our paths were meant to cross,” Massi says of the collaboration. “Through the power of music, pushing one to see beyond norms and prejudices, pushing the boundaries, I feel we are like sisters in music.”

Both artists are releasing new work this year, with Ahluwalia’s new album 7 Billion out May 4, 2018 on Six Degrees, a release honored by this US and Canadian tour. Massi has a yet-to-be-titled release due out in September 2018 (Believe/Naxos)

“The arts, and these artists in particular, are perfectly poised to create positive appreciation of Indian and Arab arts. It’s key that modern artists who have evolved with Western influence show that we’re all addressing the world and changing in our own individual ways,” says Ahluwalia. “That we are all one in seven billion, all strangers in need of welcome. That’s what this shared evening is all about.”