The seventh album from Indian/Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia is a bright and shimmering affair. It is a cross-cultural collection, with a mix of traditional Indian, European jazz and hints of a desert blues and rock style (with which bands such as Tinariwen have enjoyed so much success). On a blind listen, one might even puzzle over exactly where on earth this music came from.
The production is light and airy with plenty of space for individual musicians to perform. Ahluwalia’s voice is never less that note-perfect; it is strong but never overpowering. The tracks make use of acoustic and electric guitar, synths, drums, hand-percussion and accordion. While the song is at the center, the assembled musicians create a sound with delicate highlights and subtle shadows.
A key influence is the presence of Rez Abbasi, who both produces and plays guitars. Born in Pakistan and raised in California, Abbasi studied both classical and jazz, featuring number one in a critic’s poll in Downbeat Magazine. His work on this album is sublime, whether vamping behind the melody or performing tight, expressive solos. It is easy to see why many consider him one of the finest jazz guitarists the world has to offer.
Repeated listens to 7 Billion offer much for the ear and the mind. There is a lot of depth to explore and always something new to appreciate. Ahluwalia and her band conjure up a universal pop sound, although there is nothing trivial about their music. There is an effortless lightness in some lovely, extended grooves. Ahluwalia’s voice ties everything together like a silver thread through a tapestry.
Indeed it’s hard to know which is more admirable about the artist, her singing or the seamless way in which her compositions merge musical traditions. In the blink of an eye the sound-scape morphs from intriguing African blues into a kind of Bollywood jazz and beyond.
The term global is so over-used these days that it is in danger of becoming meaningless. However 7 Billion, with touchstones in the continents of Africa, Asia and North America, fits comfortably under the heading. Doubtless Ahluwalia is immensely pleased that the subjects of her songs, immigration, migration and worldwide-community, are also the forces which make this music possible. - Chris Wheatley
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Photo: Dorian Drislane