Niyaz ambitiously brings different together musical cultures from South Asia and beyond. The three-member ensemble, vocalist Azam Ali (Vas), multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramlin Torkian (Axiom of Choice), and producer/remixer Carmen Rizzo (Seal, Alanis Morisette, Paul Oakenfold), fuse Persian, Turkish, and Indian musical traditions with electronic dance rhythms. The band sets the Farsi poetry of 13th century Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi and ancient Indian Urdu poetry to a swirling, hypnotic, beat. The results vary. Sometimes the songs create a more soporiferous than trance-like effect. There aren’t many rough edges. The music flows smoothly like water over flat stones. This yields pleasure as well as the disc mesmerizes the listener through its use of instrumental repetition and Ali’s sensuous vocals.
According to Ali, the word Niyaz means need or yearning in both Farsi and Urdu. However, this desire isn’t expressed in the Western sense of the word. Rarely does a voice get raised or the instrumentation build to a climax. This music concerns a more spiritual yearning and despite the electronic beats, would seem appropriate to accompany meditating more than dancing. Or maybe the music should be heard while dancing in your head, as another fuser of ancient and modern music, Ornette Coleman, would say.
While Azi’s smooth and sinuous voice takes center stage, Torkian’s mix of acoustic and electric Western and non-Western instruments keeps the energy flowing. Torkian plays the guitar, the Turkish saz, electric guitarvol (a 14th century European bowed guitar), Persian lute, and a variety of other Turkish and Kurdish instruments. He bases his melodic lines on the Persian classical repertoire, called the radif. Perhaps the best way to imagine the sound is through metaphor. Think of Ali’s voice as a snake slithering down a path in the deeps woods. The trees and the wind blowing through the leaves are Torkian’s performance. The pulsations of the snake’s beating heart and the birds flying overhead are Rizzo’s beats.
Consider a track like “Golzar”. The music starts with a quiet electric beat, then a primordial bass resonance emerges, followed by strings, hand claps, and some weird hissing, at first in seeming random order, but then repetition occurs. After approximately a minute, a human voice calls out and joins itself in harmony (through the use of overdubs). The lyrics repeat, their meanings mysterious to most Western listeners, but seductive nonetheless. The five-minute cut always seems to be traveling somewhere but the journey, not the destination, is what’s important since we end up where we start.
The 10 songs last between three and seven minutes. As one might guess, the shorter ones tend to move to a quicker tempo than the longer tunes. The briefest cut, “Arezou”, is completely instrumental. The fast pace begins immediately and continues through out. The longest cut, “Diruba”, starts slowly and builds to a subtle climax during the first five minutes but then the groove slows down, the vocals become more relaxed. The music and vocals turn into whispers and fade out as the track ends.
The title of “Allahi Allah” would appear to be religious nature, but this song has the most interesting danceable beats. Rizzo layers a drone and different percussion sounds to create beguiling, ever-shifting rhythms. Torkian weaves stringed instrumentation into the mix while Ali croons overtop. The cuts with English titles, “The Hunt” and “In the Shadow of Life”, are still sung in a foreign tongue despite their song names. This fact seems unimportant as the deeper meanings implied are clearly evoked by the nature of the performances. Niyaz expresses spiritual aspirations through its music. The numinous quality of the material suggests the importance of personal introspection.