Three prominent artists, Azam Ali, best known as the vocalist of the successful world music group Vas, Loga Ramin Torkian, the multi-instrumentalist and composer for the critically acclaimed group Axiom of Choice, and Carmen Rizzo, a two time Grammy Award nominee producer/ remixer, have joined forces to create a globe-spanning sound that the trio calls "world music for the 21st century." Known collectively as Niyaz, which means yearning in both Farsi and Urdu, the trio's first eponymous release is a hypnotic, ecstatic, and eminently danceable album that represents the best of both traditional world and electronic music. Every song reflects the multiple cultural and artistic lenses each of these accomplished artists brings to this project and represents a finely-tuned balance of acoustic and electronic music that ushers in a new era of artistic possibilities for Iranian music. All three of these musicians have built impressive individual careers.
Iranian born, Indian raised Azam Ali is internationally recognized for her work with Vas, the best-selling world music duo she co-founded in 1996 with percussionist Greg Ellis. In a career which spans over a decade and includes eight collaborative and solo albums, Azam Ali has confirmed her place as one of the most prolific, versatile, and gifted singers on the world music stage today. Billboard magazine has described her voice as, "a glorious, unforgettable instrument." Azam's dedication to defy cultural specificity in music and her unwillingness to settle into one form of musical expression have earned her both the respect of her piers as well as much critical acclaim. Her immense talent and ability to adapt her voice to any musical style have drawn the attention of many diverse artists and film composers. Azam has collaborated in studio and on stage with numerous artists like Serj Tankian of System of a Down, The Crystal Method, Pat Mastellato and Trey Gunn of King Crimson, Dredg, Chris Vrenna formerly of Nine Inch Nails, Ben Watkins of Juno Reactor, Buckethead, Steve Stevens, Mercan Dede, the world renowned Japanese group Kodo, Zakir Hussain, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, and Mickey Hart. Aside from her solo and collaborative projects, Azam has also built an impressive resume singing on several major film scores including "The Matrix: Revolutions", "Godsend", "The Nativity Story" , "Paparazzi", "Children of Dune", upcoming "300" and on hit TV shows such as "Alias" and "Prison Break".
Iranian born Loga Ramin Torkian has won much recognition in his native Iran as well as in the west as the composer and multi-instrumentalists for the world music group Axiom of Choice whose music is deeply rooted in the traditional music of Iran. Although Torkian is a highly accomplished on many instruments such as the Guitar, Lafta, Djura etc., his two main instruments are the Turkish Saz, which is from the family of lutes, and the electric GuitarViol, a bowed guitar inspired by a 14th century instrument. Loga is one of the few musicians who performs the GuitarViol live. With its haunting sound that mesmerizes audiences, what makes Loga's style so singular is the fact that he applies Persian traditional bowing techniques and melodies to his playing. A highly gifted and talented composer, Loga is greatly respected for his ability to adapt the Persian classical repertoire, known as Radif, into his own unique and modern compositions.
Carmen Rizzo, a two-time Grammy Award nominee, is well known for his cutting edge work as a producer, programmer, and remixer. He has collaborated with a diverse range of artists, including Seal, Coldplay, Alanis Morisette, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Khaled, Ekova, and Cirque du Soleil as well as Paul Oakenfold, BT, Esthero, Jem, Alpha, Tiesto and Grant Lee Phillips. Carving out a very eclectic career for himself, Carmen is recognized for his lush and cinematic sound. What sets his work apart as a programmer and producer is his understanding and respect for traditional instruments and his ability to adapt modern electronics to acoustic instrumentation without sounding forced or compromising the integrity of the performances.
For these three artists, Niyaz represents a real departure from their usual avenues of artistic expression. Their first joint album weaves together traditional folk songs and mystical poems written by some of the greatest Sufi poets of all time, with music accessible to a contemporary audience. Azam sings in both Farsi (the Persian language) as well as in Urdu, a language widely spoken in India and in Pakistan. Mingling the textures of traditional acoustic music with new electronica, their music represents cultural blendings of the highest order, crossing back and forth over centuries of musical expression to combine ancient instruments, rhythms, and tonalities with brand new sounds. For Azam and Loga, who together write the music for Niyaz, their work is reflective of a generation of Iranians who like themselves have grown up outside of their homeland. The sense of displacement they have experienced combined with the influence of living in the West have enabled them to create something which while retaining its cultural roots, is accessible to the western ear. Known for their highly dynamic live performances, Niyaz aims to create political and social awareness with their music by offering insight into the lives of a generation of Iranians who struggle to preserve their cultural identity in a part of the world where they are for the most part portrayed very negatively in the media. But mostly for these artists Niyaz is a shared platform where they come together to create something of substance which although danceable, is still introspective and reflects the universal spiritual quest and longing of man.
Niyaz's debut 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. Niyaz also entered WMCE, the World Music Charts of Europe, at #76 and was the only Iranian group whose CD made it into the top 150 of the best albums of 2005 . Since the release of their debut album Niyaz have also become international touring artists. With a debut concert in Delhi, India in March of 2005, Niyaz have since performed in the United States, France, Japan, Spain, Turkey, and Canada. In 2006 the Canadian Council for the Arts provided Niyaz with one of the largest grants ever given to a non-Canadian group in order to make a full tour of Canada possible. Niyaz has performed in many prominent festivals such as, Montreal Jazz Festival, Vancouver Jazz Festival, Calgary Folk Festival and two prestigious showcases in 2006: Globalfest in New York City, and WOMEX in Sevilla, Spain.
For their live performances, Niyaz has included the talents of two virtuoso musicians who are also featured on their debut recording as guest performers:
Tabla player Satnam Ramgotra, of Indian decent, was born and raised in Canada. At the age of ten Satnam began formal training on both drum set and Indian classical Tabla which he studied under the guidance of world renowned Tabla master Swapan Chaudhri. Satnam relocated to California to further his musical education at the renowned Percussion Institute of Technology, where he immediately began performing live and recording with many of his instructors. It is his versatility and command of Rhythm which have made Satnam a highly sough after drummer and percussionist. For the past twelve years Satnam has toured extensively with artists such as Nikka Costa, Beck, Sting, Seal, Lili Haydn, and Jada Pinkett. He has also recorded and performed with prominent artists such as Macy Gray, Hans Zimmer, Aaron Zigman, David Lynch, and Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, among others. Satnam also has his own project called Alien Chatter which he co-founded with Jazz artist Rodney Lee.
Dimitris Mahlis is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. Of Greek decent, Dimitris is a graduate of the prestigious Berklee school of music. He is renowned for his virtuoso performance on Oud, Bouzouki, as well as electric and acoustic Guitar. Combining his in depth knowledge of Western musical concepts, and innate understanding of the rhythms and melodies of his Greek heritage, Dimitris has developed a unique playing and compositional style that is very progressive. He has toured extensively all over the world with several Greek musical legends as well as other international artists. In Niyaz Dimitris is featured mainly on Oud, which is a lute type instrument native to most countries in the middle east and eastern europe.