Vas vocalist Azam Ali; Axiom of Choice’s multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian; and producer/remixer Carmen Rizzo joined forces to create a globe-spanning sound that the trio calls “folk music for the 21st century.” Known collectively as Niyaz, the trio represents the best of both traditional world music and electronic music.
With an ethereal beguiling sound that evokes centuries of women’s voices from medieval Europe to the modern Middle East , Azam Ali was half of the best-selling duo Vas (with percussionist Greg Ellis). Her singing has been heard in several major motion pictures including The Matrix: Revolutions and on many television programs such as Alias and The Agency.
Loga Ramin Torkian, whose band Axiom of Choice won much critical acclaim is deeply involved with the music of his homeland Iran. He is accomplished on the guitar the Turkish saz and electric guitarviol (a 14th century European bowed guitar) a traditional Persian lute as well as other Turkish and Kurdish instruments. Loga also uses the Persian classical repertoire known as the radif within his own compositions.
Carmen Rizzo has collaborated with a diverse range of artists including Seal, Alanis Morisette, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Khaled, Ekova and Cirque du Soleil as well as Paul Oakenfold, BT Esthero, Jem Alpha, Tiesto and Grant Lee Phillips.
For these three artists Niyaz represents a real departure from their usual avenues of artistic expression. Their first joint album weaves together ten beautiful mystical poems written by some of the greatest Sufi poets of all time with music accessible to a contemporary audience. Azam who was born in Iran but largely raised in India, sings in both Farsi (the Persian language) as well as in Urdu a language widely spoken in India and in Pakistan.
The music too represents cultural combinations of the highest order crossing back and forth over centuries of musical expression to combine ancient instruments rhythms and tonalities with brand new sounds. Mingling the textures of traditional acoustic music with new electronica Niyaz represents a finely-tuned balance that ushers in a new era of artistic possibilities for Iranian music.
Niyaz’s second CD, titled Nine Heavens came out in 2008. Nine Heavens was released as a double CD (featuring one disc of electronic and one disc of acoustic versions of the tracks).
Continuing to bridge the gap between traditional and modern world music Niyaz follows up 2005’s critically acclaimed and highly successful self-debut album with another recording of traditional sounds balanced tastefully with modern electronics.
Nine Heavens reveals a much more complex body of work featuring nine intricately carved original arrangements and compositions of traditional folk songs and mystical Sufi poems from Iran the Indian sub-continent and Turkey. With a strong emphasis on composition Niyaz centers on the deep interconnectedness between the music of Iran India and Turkey and delves further into the traditional melodies of these regions with outstanding performances by its core members as well as guest musicians of the highest caliber from these three traditions.
The lyrical framework for Nine Heavens once again features beautiful Persian and Urdu mystical poems by some of the greatest Sufi poets two original interpretations of traditional folk songs from Khorassan Iran and one soulful folk song from Maras Turkey. For the Iranian portion of the album Niyaz shift their focus from the beloved Sufi poet Rumi onto another great Iranian 13th century mystic/poet/musician Amir Khosrau Dehlavi who was born and raised in India and went on to become an iconic figure in the cultural history of the Indian sub-continent where he is revered to this day by thousands. ForNiyaz Dehlavi?s work embodies the very spirit of their music which focuses on the timeless exchange between these two cultures. For the Urdu portion of the album Niyaz features Ghazals and Rubaiyats by renowned 18th century Sufi poets Khwaja Mir Dard and Hali.
Their 2012 album Sumud expands on the theme of the music and identity of Iranians living in exile while adding their new experiences and worldviews learned during their heavy touring through the Middle East in the past seven years. “We have now travelled across the world and those experiences have affected the journey that we are on and the direction we’ve taken on this album,” Ali said from her new home in Montreal. “We’ve performed in the Kurdish parts of Turkey during times of major conflicts as well as other parts of the Middle East. Obviously that has affected this project. We wanted to focus on the ethnic and religious minority groups in these regions because they have really struggled to maintain their identity. It started from us wanting to tell our story and it has evolved into this humanitarian social message embracing regions around Iran.”
In 2013, Carmen Rizzo left the group.