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Kiran Ahluwalia (Darren Calabrese)
Kiran Ahluwalia (Darren Calabrese)

My Car: Kiran Ahluwalia

Juno winner sings a practical tune Add to ...

She dumped a high-paying job in the financial sector to pursue her true passion - music. The gamble paid off.

It didn't take long for Indo-Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia to win her first Juno award - the 2004 Best World Music Album for Beyond Boundaries.

Nowadays, she's still singing the same tune - it's a unique blend of Punjabi folk songs and ghazals, a type of sung poetry, which originated in Persia about 1,000 years ago.

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Her concert schedule is jam packed, travelling around the world. When touring across North America, she always rents a van. And when she returns to Markham, Ont., she drives a 1999 Nissan Altima sedan.

"It came in the family new; it came to me used. I had for the longest time a Nissan Sentra, which was totally fine. For me, the car is just a utility. But my husband didn't like the Sentra. He's a car guy and the Sentra wasn't exciting to him. He hated driving it," Ahluwalia says.

"My dad had an Altima and my husband would always drive it; it had a CD player as well. Because we're both musicians, that's very valuable to us. So I said, 'I'll just take this car.'

"We sold the Sentra and I took over the insurance and changed the ownership for the Altima," says Ahluwalia, whose husband, Rez Abassi, is a guitarist in his own jazz quartet. Ahluwalia occasionally performs with his group, too; they have a gig together on May 28 at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.

Ahluwalia prefers Japanese cars because of their reliability record. "I value the utility of the vehicle" she says.

"I want a car that will last 10 years or longer because I totally hate the process of researching, shopping for a new car, and then haggling for the price. I wish I could just snap my fingers and my car is there," says Ahluwalia, who just wrapped up an Eastern Canadian and an Eastern European tour. She heads back to Europe in July, and tours B.C. in August.

Her first car was a new 1993 Mazda Protégé, which didn't last long. "I totalled the Mazda Protégé in an accident just a few months after I bought it. I was going straight and a young kid was making a left-hand turn. He made it too early and I went right into him," she says.

"I wanted a Mazda Protégé again because this was the first time in my life I was buying a car. I had done a lot of research on it; I had driven lots of cars.

"I had settled on the Mazda Protégé and I was quite happy with that. But my parents felt it was a bad omen because I had gotten into an accident so early on with it and so they were totally against me buying another one," says Ahluwalia, whose latest CD, Wanderlust, was nominated for a 2008 Juno award for World Music Album of the Year.

She's in the midst of composing another CD for release next year.

Ahluwalia actually spends more time in rental cars than her Altima. When touring, she always rents a minivan. "Dodge Grand Caravan is the best for us. It's actually the largest minivan," she says.

"We've never taken a tape measure, but we just find that with five musicians, all our gear and all our luggage, everything just fits better in the Grand Caravan."

All that space has led to trouble. "We had to rent a van and drive to Richmond for a tour in B.C. We had already been on the road so we had extra big bags. The five of us were all stressing about how we are going to fit the luggage in the van. And the shuttle driver is like, 'I'm sure it's fine' ...

"We get to the rental car place and I leave the guys to unload the luggage. There's another couple with us going to a wedding.

"I come out and everything is packed in the Grand Caravan. We take off. We've been driving for 45 minutes and I get a call on my cellphone. It's my rental car company saying that not only had we packed our own bags, we had packed the bags of the other couple on the shuttle bus!

"I'm saying, 'I assure you, we're not the ones with the baggage because we hardly had room for our bags.' He's pleading with me to pull over to confirm. So I take the exit, pull over, open the door and, sure enough, the first two bags that we see are not ours!" laughs the dark-haired, dark-eyed singer, who was born in India, raised in Toronto, and now divides her time between New York City and Markham.

The Grand Caravan's size has also posed some problems. "One time in Victoria, I was backing out of an underground, really, really tight garage and there was a pole behind me that I didn't see. I went right into the pole and dented the car.

"For a second, I was like, 'Oh, my god!' I was so frazzled and then I thought, 'I bought the car insurance! So I can bring this thing back like a pancake, ' " she laughs.

On the road, her musical tastes vary. "My CD collection has a lot of world music - lots of Indian, African, Portuguese, Greek, Italian music. Because of my husband, a lot of jazz, too."

Ahluwalia is too practical to part with her Altima any time soon. And if she could have her dream car, the sensible side would win out, too.

"It would be whatever the most expensive car is for the simple reason that I would resell it. ... And I know enough to ask for a Bentley over a Jaguar so I can get more money!"

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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