We had the good fortune of connecting with Kamaljeet & Jas Ahluwalia and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kamaljeet & Jas, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Jas: We’re both musicians, and the general wisdom among musicians is the work is the life. And to a certain extent that’s true. Our brains are constantly churning. If we’re listening to music, we’re enjoying it, we’re feeling it, but our analytical mind is working too. If we’re watching tv or even talking to someone, I may be reciting a composition in my head. I tap rhythms on tables, chairs, pots, and pans. I’m in bed and I’m trying to work out some musical mathematical puzzle.
Kamaljeet: I sing while I wash the dishes. Then there is all the other work like social media management, video and audio editing, contracts, tax forms, and podcasting. Of course, there is the time we physically spend playing our instruments.
Jas: But this all can quickly lead to burnout, and make the music suffer.
Kamaljeet: What made us draw clear lines of separation between work and life was our young children. You have to give them your undivided attention, and so our work-time became more scheduled and goal-oriented.
Jas: This led us to be hyper-focused. For example, writing sessions are now time-boxed. We have this small window during the kids’ naptime to get something written and flushed out. At first you think this isn’t possible. But the deadlines ended up making us productive and better musicians. Not only did we get more done in less time, it was of better quality. Which is always the ultimate goal.
Kamaljeet: And this has now been compounded by the pandemic. With virtual schooling, I’m now a full time teacher, as well as a full time mother, full time wife, and full time musician. That’s a lot of full time jobs! I’m tired just telling you about it! But music is something we can’t pull back on. So all those things end up feeding into the music.
Jas: The pandemic has added more to our plates, but has allowed for some wonderful time together as a family.
Kamaljeet: And that time together, is probably one of the main things that’s reflected in the music. So, just to sum it up, maintain that balance between work and life…and you’ll be a better musician!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Jas: We are an Indian Classical music duo made up of Tabla and Santoor. I play the Tabla, a two piece percussion instrument that produces some amazing tones and has its own language and deep repertoire.
Kamaljeet: I play the Santoor, a rare and exquisite hammered dulcimer/zither from Kashmir. The instrument allows for the simultaneous exploration of sublime melodies and intricate detailed rhythmic patterns.
Jas: Together though, is where we really shine. Not only are the two instruments perfect companions for each other, but Kamaljeet and I are perfect companions for each other. Having been married for almost 10 years now, we are able to read each other’s thoughts on stage. Since the Indian Classical form is improvised, this lets us go down new musical “roads” together and have those spontaneous moments of creation in front of the audience.
Kamaljeet: Those moments are the greatest feeling in in the world! We’ve really started to find our singular voice, together. But it wasn’t always that way.
Jas: Right. I’d say the kids again were the biggest factor in bringing about that change. Before they came, we had plenty of time. So if a concert was coming up, we’d talk about it and even sort of semi-plan it out.
Kamaljeet: We’d say “We can start here, and then I can do this, and you can do that…” It wasn’t detailed, but the major building blocks and path of the performance would have been discussed. What we didn’t realize at the time though, was this was closing the door on some of those moments of spontaneous creation. Once the kids entered the picture these discussions just stopped happening. Pre-concert discussions usually involved “Did you pack her pajamas? What about his bedtime book? What will they eat for dinner? Is this car seat FAA approved?”
Jas: And because we were so focused on the ridiculous amount of stuff you have to pack we wouldn’t know what we’re going to play before we got to the venue. At first, this was jarring. But when we leaned into it, it gave a sense of freedom. Freedom to explore, freedom to try new things, freedom to take risks, and most importantly, freedom to make a mistake.
Kamaljeet: I can’t tell you the amount of times that an initial mistake lead to something beautiful or a whole new way of thinking. The audience can really feel when you’re on stage having fun and trying new things. They want to try those new things with you, as opposed to you going through your set plan.
Jas: The music is better for it and we’re looking forward to taking this philosophy in the recording studio. The pandemic has lead us to build our studio out and switch focus to releasing more of our own work under the name Absolute Focus, as well as recording with our friends and collaborators, and continue to do Film and Television session work.
Kamaljeet: During the pandemic we had work released with Qais Essar, Grand Tapestry, Alam Khan, Eligh, Raaginder, Neelamjit Dhillon, Justin Bell, Amritha Vaz (Mira, Royal Detective), and Raashi Kulkarni. And there is a lot more in the pipeline.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Jas: Southern California is pretty awesome. Pre-pandemic, there was a lot to do and I hope we can do it all again. Comedy Clubs like The Comedy Store and The Ice House were fun to go to. Largo also had amazing comedy and musical events.
Kamaljeet: Beaches like The Strands and Salt Creek are two of my favorites. We used to go to Film Screenings all the time that had Q&A’s with the directors and actors. Jas: During the pandemic, we’ve needed to escape a couple times and Airbnb is great for that. Finding some isolated place like Joshua Tree or Lake Arrowhead can be really relaxing. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Jas: In the Indian Classical world, our teachers or Gurus, are our lifelong institutions of higher learning. Everything we do, comes from them. They continue to give us the tools we need to create and innovate. So we have to dedicate our shoutout to them. Namely, my teacher Ustad Tari Khan and Kamaljeet’s teachers Dharambir Singh, Harjinderpal Singh, and Pandit Shivkumar Sharma.
Kamaljeet: Absolutely, we are nothing without them. We’re truly blessed to have their guiding light in our lives. Beyond that, I’d also like to give a shoutout to both of our parents. They’ve been so supportive and continue to support us. Last minute babysitting when a gig or recording comes up is priceless! We are so thankful and grateful for all that they do. Jas: And we’d also like to give a shoutout to our children…since they’ve been mentioned quite a bit here. They inspire us and make us want to be better human beings, better musicians.