LOVEfest, The Musical Response to Hate Crime Comes to Toronto

Photo Credit: Dorian Drislane

Kiran Ahluwalia gets real on LOVEfest and her personal musical journey

LOVEfest, the traveling festival touring North America from April 8-20th is a musical response to hate crime.  The idea arose 2 years ago from Kiran Ahluwalia’s personal interest in exploring aspects of cultural intolerance – the loss of ‘brotherhood’ in mankind.  “It is a theme close to my personal experience,” she says.

“My story is that of an immigrant born in India and raised in Canada. As an immigrant child the hardships we faced were touted as temporary – 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.”

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 such as ours is cultural intolerance and difficulty in embracing newness, says Ahluwalia.

Tell us about your musical journey. 

I started music at the age of 5 when I was in India.  Then when my parents and I immigrated to Canada –  they found an Indian music teacher in Toronto for me to continue with.  Throughout school, University and my first 9 to 5 job – music was a strong passion – but a part-time one.   So after working for 2 years I made the decision to quit my job and go back to India to be a full time music student for one year. Everyone said I was crazy – and they were right – I was.

When I came back to Canada I didn’t feel like going back to a job so I went to MBA school – and studied finance.  I ended up trading bonds on Bay Street but didn’t last long there.  For

Photo Credit: Dorian Drislane

the following 10 years I bounced back and forth between music studies in India and contract work in the cultural industry back home in Toronto.  I would spend a year studying music in India – then return to Toronto to work for a year in radio, TV or a record label – then I would go back to India for a year to do music.  This happened until 2000 when I recorded my first commercial album.  Along the way I started touring, composing music for others and now I’m releasing my 7th album – called 7 Billion.

Who is your role model?

My role models change but I recently read about a women in India who worked some sort of a security job.  She wasn’t what you would call rich but she saved her money and built over 500 toilets for her  surrounding area.  That is so incredibly inspiring.  She could have saved to build herself a bigger home but instead she built stuff that other people needed.

Why is diversity important in the music industry? 

Diversity is important everywhere – not just the music industry.  One group of people can’t get it all correct – if we share ideas we can discover so much that we wouldn’t have thought of in our insular groups.  Also, our population IS diverse and having a positive curiosity about others can lead to a richer, peaceful life and community.

How does music act as a universal language to bring people together?

Sometimes our emotions can’t be summed up in words.  But whatever the emotion – euphoria – melancholy – it can find release in a certain pattern of notes or a certain rhythm.  Even if we don’t speak the same language – we all connect to the emotional release that music brings.

Why is LOVEfest important? Especially during the current socio-political climate?

LOVEfest features both spiritual and secular modern arts originating in the Sikh and Islamic cultures.  As our country becomes more diverse – isn’t it worthwhile to peek into other traditions and modernities to understand – to appreciate – to broaden the scope of things we can all get joy from.

LOVEfest brings Sikh Spiritual music (Shabad Kirtan) to the public stage by The Bhai Kabal Singh group. Although the West has been introduced to music from Islam in the form of Sufi music, we rarely see dance from Islamic traditions. Tanoura with it’s colorful skirts is the whirling dervish dance as it has evolved in Egypt where it is performed in both religious and folk ceremonies.  Yasser Darwish will be dancing Tanoura.

Both Sikh spirituals and Tanoura are traditional art forms.  Juxtaposed with the traditional are myself and Souad Massi – born into Sikhism in India and Islam in Algeria respectively.  Both of us are modern exponents of music originating in our cultures.  We sing of the human condition, our personal stories as women and the stories of our communities in turmoil.  In one night, on one stage it is rare to be able to see art that has survived intact for hundreds of years and the way in which elements from that culture have evolved with Western influence.

Describe your experience with LOVEFest.

LOVEfest has been 2 years in the making – I started in 2016.  Now it’s finally here – I can’t believe it!  It’s been a lot of work.  I’m super excited to share these art forms with audiences and also super thrilled to be releasing my own new album – 7 Billion.

How can we purchase tickets for LOVEFest? 

Tickets to the Toronto concert at Harbourfront can be purchased here.

Ticket links for the whole North American tour can be found here –

Ahluwalia is also releasing her new album – 7 Billion.  The subject of her lyrics is cultural tolerance – and strong women being labeled Sinful or ‘nasty’.   Musically – she calls her music Indian Rhythm & Blues.

Check out her video with footage from studio sessions:

LOVEfest opens doors into two religions and cultures that at the very least remain mysterious to the general public. It brings audiences exceptional performances of both traditional and modern arts from the Sikh and Muslim cultures and hopes to create a positive curiosity.

The Toronto appearance will be April 14 at Harbourfront.  Before that LOVEfest hits Oakville April 12 and St. Catharines April 13.

For more, see the trailer here –