Curiosity and care have distinguished the music of vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia, a stylist grounded in Indian classical and folk music and Persian ghazals who has continually reached beyond zones of familiarity. Born in India, raised in Canada and now based in New York City, Ahluwalia has collaborated with West African ensembles Terakaft and Tinariwen (on 2011’s “Aam Zameen: Common Ground”) and Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster (2005’s “Kiran Ahluwalia”), and incorporated rhythms and lyrics from blues, Celtic, fado, Qawwali and Sufi traditions, among others, into her globally conscious music. She comes to Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium Saturday night.

A confident performer onstage, the onetime Toronto bond trader is backed by a dextrous ensemble — accordion, electric guitar, organ, tabla and drums — sympathetically attuned to her cultural explorations. Ahluwalia has over half a dozen albums’ worth of material to pull from when creating concert sets. Love and longing formed a consistent thematic thread connecting early recordings, and she has in no way abandoned the romantic ghazals of her early training — “Jhoomo (Sway)” from 2018’s “7 Billion” is one of her most seductive tunes, and with its twined accordion and tabla interludes, “Raina (Night)” is as entrancing as a full moon rising. But more recent releases have expressed broader perspectives and concerns. “Khafa,” from that same album, protests the kind of blinkered religious dogma that has increasingly antagonized and separated people across the world over the past couple of decades; West African trance undercurrents and desert blues riffs make her call for tolerance more expressively compelling. “Kuch Aur (Something Else)” taps into blues roots as well as Memphis soul sounds, which creates an unexpectedly familiar, Western-sounding setting for Ahluwalia’s ululations — all the more effective when striving to honor common ground over perceived divisions.

One of the highlights of “7 Billion” is “We Sinful Women,” an original refashioning of a Pakistani-Urdu feminist poem, a thrumming, jazz rock-infused anthem of self-affirmation set to a skittering backbeat that gives acclaimed guitarist (and Ahluwalia’s husband) Rez Abbasi ample space for a solo answered by the rest of the band. The instruments express the fury and determination of the words, while Ahluwalia’s soprano sails ahead like a clear-eyed visionary.   


Kiran Ahluwalia appears in concert at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena, at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24; $30/$35/$40 ($10 for youth age 18 and under). Info: (626) 395-4652. kiranmusic.com, Caltech.edu.