Kiran Ahluwalia and the 2012 White Light Festival Preview

by Sachyn Mital

25 October 2012

Lincoln Center's third annual White Light Festival kicked off with a free performance from Kiran Ahluwalia. Like previous iterations, White Light 2012 brings a number of unique spiritual and worldly performances to life.

Kiran Ahluwalia

18 Oct 2012: Lincoln Center — New York

Kiran Ahluwalia’s free White Light Festival-kick-off performance went off without a hitch… except the only problem was a lack of room for all the people who hoped to attend. Sadly, some folks didn’t get to come inside and enjoy the performance in the small David Rubenstein Atrium and may not have had the patience to wait for the space to open up, though folks who managed to get seats earlier stayed. Of those left standing outside, I felt guilty watching one man’s struggle to enjoy the music—tapping his fingers on the glass as if he could hear the rhythms (hopefully he did). But what could I do, I wanted to enjoy the music too. Ahluwalia acknowledged those folks and suggested she should actually sing outside but in the end, she gave about 75 minutes on the small atrium stage.

Inside, the mostly quiet and receptive audience watched Ahluwalia’s performance rooted in South Asian music (Indian and Punjabi) but with some added contemporary elements like the electric and bass guitar (and an accordion substituting for the harmonium). Ahluwalia also truly represents world music, at least my characterization of it, as she adds global elements and traditions like fado, French or Celtic music to her work. Interestingly, while listening to her second song “Mustt Mustt”, I thought I sensed more a spacious ‘desert’ vibe to the tune. So when I did some research after the event, I saw that the song had been performed with the Tuareg group Tinariwen (who I caught twice earlier this year). Ahluwalia and her band went through songs off her three released albums plus a couple of exciting new songs. One of those, the song “Sanatta” also stood out from the rest as its desert blend charmed the audience. The charm was complete when, Ahluwalia actually did step off stage during that song to sing without a microphone for a brief bit, thrilling the lucky front row with her voice. All in all, this was an exciting performance… proven by the one individual in the back hooting, hollering and dancing along. Although maybe a bit disruptive to the silent throng, I have to admit, he had the right idea. Ahluwalia and her band gave a riveting and rocking performance that should have had more people on their feet.
Over at the White Light Festival’s official site ( you can see the entire calendar of events. Just as in the past when members of Sigur Rós and members of Portishead gave performances, this year also has one name that should stand out quickly to Western audiences. Mary Chapin Carpenter will be previewing songs from her new album, Ashes and Roses this year (26 Oct). But works from well known classical composers are also on the calendar, with a night titled ‘Immortal Bach’ (28 Oct) featuring Cameron Carpenter on organ and another night with the Philharmonia Orchestra performing Mahler’s “Symphony No. 9”.

On the more obscure scale, there is the abstract sonic exploration ‘Cosmic Pulses’ (30 Oct) with music from the “controversial” composer Karlheinz Stockhausen being performed and the Georgian choral group, Ensemble Basiani, returning to Lincoln Center with their work ‘Transcending Time’ on the 27th of October. And continuing on the South Asian theme of meditation through movement, there are two dance performances, ‘The Spirit of the Body’ (1-3 Nov) featuring Malavika Sarukkai and ‘Vertical Road’ (23-4 Oct) with the Akram Khan Company. The latter event features a composition by Nitin Sawhney, the UK producer and musician behind the scores for films like The Namesake and Midnight’s Children as well as multiple albums, Beyond Skin and the latest, Last Days of Meaning with narrative from John Hurt. With all of this and more, White Light Festival again promises to be a memorable series.

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Songs in the setlist (from image above):
Yaar Naal
Mustt Mustt
Soch Ka
Jaag Na Jaag
[tabla solo]
Meri Gori Gori

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