‘A World In Trance’, a 3-day festival featuring the spellbinding music of Zimbabwe, Iran, Pakistan and India will take place April 29-30 in New York City at Roulette.
This year’s series includes mbira music of Zimbabwe with masterful musician Chartwell Dutiro (April 28); enthralling 21st century trance world music with Niyaz featuring captivating vocalist Azam Ali (April 29); and exhilarating interpretations of Sufi qawwali with the US-based Riyaaz Qawwali (April 30).
Friday, April 28, 2017 8:00 p.m.
Voices of the Ancestors: Mbira Music of Zimbabwe
Saturday, April 29, 2017 8:00 p.m.
Niyaz featuring Azam Ali
21st Century Global Trance Music
Sunday, April 30, 2017 7:00 p.m.
Sufi Music of Pakistan & India
Azam Ali’s hauntingly lovely voice should be a familiar one considering her collaborations with Mickey Hart, System of a Down, King Crimson, Nine Inch Nails and a film score credit on the blockbuster 300. Stepping out for a solo recording from her work as part of the trio Niyaz, Ms. Ali has chosen a series of Azerbaijani, Iranian, Lebanese and Turkish lullabies for From Night to the Edge of Day. Drawing from her own experience as a new mother, Ms. Ali has delved deep into the dream world, past and present, a place where mothers’ wishes float down onto the heads of their children.
Collecting lullabies from minority communities often oppressed or conflict afflicted areas from across the Middle East, Ms. Ali explains, “You go to the Middle East, and the West is blamed for everything. However, many of our problems stem from our own way of thinking, from cultural divisions, interethnic conflict. No matter what culture you are, we are all the same at the core. Lullabies communicate this. And that perspective alone can change a lot of things.”
Expertly produced and richly worked, From Night to the Edge of Day is both soulful and mournful without any a single shred of saccharine sweetness sometimes found on other lullaby recordings. Sophisticated, lush compositions unfold through a tapestry of vocals and a lineup of first class musicians, making this From Night to Edge of Day a soothing delight for the restless baby in each of us.
Wrapped up in the brightly colored exoticism of santur, oud, violin, electric saz, drones, frame drum, riqq and bender against Ms. Ali’s stunning vocals, From Night to the Edge of Day flows both profound with meaning and sweet with expression throughout the Iranian lullaby “Noor,” the traditional Turkish lullabies “Dandini” and “Neni Desem” and the inexpressibly lovely “Shirin,” a traditional lullaby from Azerbaijan. Equally wonderful are “Mehman,” lyrics taken from a traditional Iranian text, and the Kurdish lullaby “Lai Lai” with Ms. Ali composing the music for both.
It’s impossible not to fall under the spell of Ms. Ali’s vocals or the sumptuous feel of these remarkable lullabies. Through these lullabies From Night to the Edge of Day captures the soulfulness of every mother’s love.
Iranian singer Azam Ali has recorded a new album where she explores Iranian, Turkish, Lebanese, and Kurdish lullabies. From Night to the Edge of Day will be released by Six Degrees Records on April 12, 2011.
The Iranian-born, Indian-raised vocalist makes traditional and newly composed songs smolder with dreamy longing, with the grief of exile in a conflict-riven world, and with a keen edge of hope.
“The birth of my son was bittersweet,” singer Azam Ali reflects. “He would never meet a large part of his family. And he was not alone in this: So many children are born in diaspora, so innocent in all this. Yet they suffer the consequences of turmoil in the world.”
The first night of her son’s life, Azam Ali began to sing. “I was in shock, staring at this little person,” Ali recalls. “I realized singing was the best way to communicate with him, without language. There’s something profound about singing to a child, which is why women have done it for thousands of years.”
Ali has collaborated with everyone from Mickey Hart to System of a Down, with musicians from Nine Inch Nails and King Crimson. She has appeared in film scores including 2007 box office smash, 300. She has taken global sounds in new directions as part of Niyaz, with help from producer Carmen Rizzo (Seal, Coldplay).
Lullabies began coming to Ali from various sources. Friends returning from Iran brought her a collection of traditional lyrics, including texts in Farsi dialects that became tracks like “Mehman (The Guest).” Other friends from across the Middle East sang her classic favorites (the Turkish favorite “Dandini”) and obscure gems (the rarely-heard traditional Turkish song, “Neni Desem”). Her close friend, Palestinian oud player Naser Musa, spontaneously wrote a stirring lullaby for Ali’s son, after speaking with Ali about her project (“Faith”).
Ali chose lullabies from minority communities across the Middle East, such as Iraqi Kurds (“Lai Lai”) and the Azeris of Iran (“Shirin”), in a plea for peace and an end to conflict. “You go to the Middle East, and the West is blamed for everything. However, many of our problems stem from our own way of thinking, from cultural divisions, interethnic conflict,” Ali explains. “No matter what culture you are, we are all the same at the core. Lullabies communicate this. And that perspective alone can change a lot of things.”
“To do this project, I worked with Kurds, Azeris, a Palestinian Christian, Iranians from all over,” recounts Ali. “You could write a book about each one of them, about their difficulties in life and their diaspora. It was a profound experience for me as person.”
“From childhood, we are fed all these ideologies that end up shaping the way we view the world,” she says. “If our parents and society could feed us more enlightened ideology from childhood, it would have such an effect on how we grow up and see people.”
Traditional music, roots music, indigenous music… whatever you choose to call it, it’s something to be preserved and respected. And woe to those seeking to modernize it so much that the original intent takes a back seat. San Francisco-based Six Degrees Records, while not exclusively a label specializing in releases that mix the old with the new, nonetheless has an impressive and growing roster of artists who do justice to such combinations.
Jef Stott is a name previously unknown to me, though he’s been making music for more than a decade. He certainly knows how to mess with beats, breaks, electronics and samples. Just as importantly and even more so, he plays a number of instruments and clearly understands that music is soulless without them.
Most of the players and singers he’s previously collaborated with are Middle Eastern, and his attempt to take what he gleaned from them and merge it with Bay Area-electronica succeeds smartly on Saracen. He sweetens sweeping electronic beats with Arabic and Turkish lutes, crisp percussion, fat bass and more, creating a consistently engaging flow laced with standout tracks like the Gnawa-tinged “Medina Stepper.” This Stott’s debut album, and his combination of instrumental expertise and producing prowess make it a very good one.
On the subject of debut releases, that of Brazilian vocalist CéU rightly earned much critical praise following its 2006 release. Sonantes isn’t her second album as such, though she sings on most of the tracks. Rather, the disc is an eponymously titled group effort featuring Sao Paulo music scene stalwarts Rica and Gui Amabis (both noted composers and studio tinkerers) along with Pupillo and Dengue, drums and bass team of the band Naçao Zumbi.
The music is at least partly rooted in bossa nova, though an anything-goes sonic approach makes every track different. You can hear something of the psychedelic approach that fueled Brazil’s Tropicalia movement, hints of samba, electronically-tempered funk, rock and jazz inclinations and above all a freewheeling sense of abandon stemming from the sheer joy of making music. It’s a magnificent mash of an album and my only gripe is that, at just over 35 minutes, it’s too short (possibly the result of the participants having other commitments).
I managed to miss out on Niyaz ’s 2005 first album, and given how stirring their new Nine Heavens is, perhaps I should do some backtracking. But first a few more words about Nine Heavens (to be released on June 24th): it’s rooted, as an increasing number of musical projects seem to be nowadays, in the mystical poetry of Sufism. With the great mystic poet Rumi getting his due all over the place, Niyaz (comprised of Persian-American vocalist Azam Ali, multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian and producer/programmer/keyboard player Carmen Rizzo) instead turn their attention toward 13th century mystic Amir Khosrau Dehlavi, said to have invented the qawwali devotional music popularized by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and the ghazal styled 18th century poems of Khwaja Mir Dard and Hali.
The source material is reflective of Niyaz ’s blending of Persian and Indian (and on this disc, a shade of Turkish) musical sensibilities, a connection apparent in cross-cultural similarities that are centuries old and here musically beautified with the same sort of passion that inspired those ancient mystics.
The most immediately striking thing about the album is Ali’s voice: her angelic, ghostly tones (which have served her well on previous solo projects and her work as half of the duo Vas) are at their strongest here and it doesn’t take long to realize how much of that strength is brought to the fore through a rich weave of string, percussion and wind instruments emboldened with cavernous modern production. It’s marvelous stuff, seeming to yearn for something just out of reach and yet grabbing hold of a spiritual clarity that’s alternately revving and calming. And the musical/cultural duality at work here is manifested in the way the songs are presented as well: there’s a second disc featuring nearly every track (minus, unfortunately, the trembling lullaby “Iman”) performed acoustically. But that doesn’t mean they’re subdued or lessened. Indeed, the acoustic versions are every bit as thunderous a combination of possessed dance rhythms and inward meditation as their plugged-in counterparts, and the seamlessness of the Persian/Indian fusion is even more striking. Highly recommended.
San Francisco (California), USA – Azam Ali has been busy lending her vocal talents to two highly anticipated films; 300 (Warner Brothers) and The Nativity Story (New Line Cinema). Ali has already built an impressive resume singing on film scores including Matrix Revolutions, Dawn of the Dead, Godsend, Paparazzi, and Children of Dune. In addition, her voice resonates on hit TV shows Alias, Prison Break, and most recently on the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, singing in Arabic and Urdu.
300, directed by Zach Synder (Dawn of the Dead), is based on Frank Miller’s (Sin City) acclaimed graphic novel retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae in which King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and 300 Spartans fought to the death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army. Ali worked with music composer Tyler Bates and contributed solo features, vocalization, and textural vocals throughout the film, which is due out in March 2007.
The Nativity Story, directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown, Thirteen) features Oscar nominees Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and Shoreh Aghdashloo (The House of Sand Fog). The plot follows the story of the Virgin Mary before the birth of Christ, and is scheduled for a December 2006 release. Award-winning composer Mychael Danna, who worked with Ali on two songs and vocalizing, is overseeing the score. Danna is recognized as one of the pioneers of combining non-Western sound sources with orchestral and electronic minimalism in the world of film music.
“Using my voice to extend emotions on film and TV is a natural fit for me,” says Azam Ali. “This medium combines a visual stimuli to my voice, which helps audiences connect to the plot.” Azam’s film work comes hot on the heels of her critically acclaimed album, Elysium for the Brave, out now on Six Degrees. In addition to Azam’s solo work, she has reached successful heights as part of the Persian electronica outfit Niyaz, consisting of Axiom of Choice’s multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian and producer Carmen Rizzo (Seal, Alanis Morisette, Paul Oakenfold), as well as one half of the duo Vas.
Born in Iran and raised in India and the United States, Azam Ali is familiar name in world music as the lead vocalist of Vas and Niyaz, as well as a vocalist on such film scores of Children of Dune, Earthsea and Matrix Revolutions. With her second solo CD Elysium for the Brave, Ali ventures deeper into the ethereal with a voice that is both commanding and sensual.
Heavy with electronica, Ali’s English and Farsi vocals weave a delicious spell more intricate than the trail of incense through a bazaar. “Spring Arrives,” “In Other Worlds” and “The Tryst” are steeped in Ali’s Persian roots but are transformed into a world of stratospheric sensuality with synthesizers and that wide-open feel of Ali’s soaring voice.
Making something modern out of the combination of synthesizers, hammered dulcimer, frame drums, tabla, Turkish dhol, darbuka and electric guitars might be not so successful collaboration, but in Elysium for the Brave it works – it works overtime and it’s wonderful.
With her reputation and career on firm footing, Ali was able to command some first class collaborators on Elysium, including Trey Gunn from King Crimson, Chris Venna from Nine Inch Nails, Mercan Dede, Turkish composer and DJ, and world music devotee Mickey Hart. Carmen Rizzo’s synthesizer, programming and keyboard work makes the CD meaty while allowing Ali’s vocals to shine through the musical ebb and flow of electronic and Middle Eastern influences. Ali has stirred together both east and west, ancient and modern, sultry and soulful with Elysium for the Brave.
Elysium for the Brave (Six Degrees Records), Azam Ali’s second solo album, signals a new turn in her musical evolution. The album, her most ambitious work to date, brings together musicians from varied musical backgrounds performing in diverse permutations. Singing predominantly in English for the first time, the songs are based on lyrics written by Azam herself and reveal a poetic lyricism heard only in glimpses of her previous works.
From the new CD’s opening track, “Endless Reverie,” it becomes immediately apparent that Ali has moved into new sonic territory. The frame drum pulse is familiar but the percolating synthesizer textures and haunting vocals sung in English take the song into a darkly beautiful place that exists between the worlds of electronic rock and global fusion. This terrain is also occupied by the tracks, “In Other Worlds,” “In this Divide” and ”Forty One Ways.”While electronics and programming abound on Elysium for the Brave, they are balanced throughout the CD with traditional instrumentation. The lafta and hand drums which propel “Spring Arrives” and the insistent ney flute which lends a haunting quality to “I Am a Stranger in this World” are examples of how organic and electronic instrumentation can beautifully co-exist. Despite the mix of ancient and modern instrumentation, Elysium for the Brave is a highly coherent body of work that weaves together all of Azam’s cultural and musical influences into a tapestry of atmospheric rock, electronic, and global sounds.
Helping to bring all of these diverse sounds together is a talented cast of musicians which includes King Crimson’s rhythm section of Trey Gunn and Pat Mastellotto, Persian classical violinist Kiavash Nourai, and noted film composers Tyler Bates and Jeff Rona, the latter of whom is known for his collaborations with Dead Can Dance.
Loga Ramin Torkian and Carmen Rizzo, Azam’s collaborators in her latest musical venture, Niyaz, have also lent their talents to this project. Released on Six Degrees Records, Niyaz’s debut blends ancient Persian and Urdu Sufi poetry, rich acoustic instrumentation, and modern electronics. Their CD has been hailed by critics worldwide as one of the most groundbreaking of its time. The album debuted at #1 on iTunes world music chart and remained there for numerous weeks, and it charted on Billboard’s world music chart for four consecutive weeks, peaking at #12.