The last half of the ’90s saw a genre-bending trend of traditional and worldbeat sounds fused with electronic inspirations and compliments.
Independent of each other, vocalist Azam Ali and Loga Ramin Torkian were both part of this musical construct—Ali with her band Vas and Torkian leading a few Iranian émigré peers in Axiom of Choice. A little more than a decade ago the couple, now married with a young son, began Niyaz and expanded their music bringing Middle-Eastern sounds and ancient Sufi poetics into this contemporary context.
Having just departed from their home in L.A. for a string of dates around North America, Niyaz will be celebrating with music from the last decade before embarking on a new musical turn involving multimedia magic they plan to explore in the decade ahead.
“We couldn’t have done this kind of music if we had not been immigrants,” Torkian says of the advantage of being forced to grow outside of their Iranian culture. “Because we have a bit of a generational gap, we had our different kinds of electronic music we were both listening to, but we were both very much influenced by it. And I’m very proud to say, on the last album, primarily Azam did lots of the electronics.”
This last album, 2015’s The Fourth Light, was created as a tribute to the 8th century mystic and poet—considered the mother of modern Sufism—Rabia Al Basri and includes lyrics from a few of her poems that have survived the tumultuous ages. Incorporating an ideology of social justice and spiritual intelligence is one of the founding pillars of Niyaz.
“We actually do take it very seriously. We go about studying, searching, talking, discussing, and every album of ours has been dedicated to a different poet,” Torkian says, explaining why he believes the ancient wisdom of Sufism still holds a relevant place in modern times.
After living in Montreal for nearly eight years, Torkian and Ali moved back to L.A. with their son Iman and are working on a change of direction. The day before their St. Albert show, The Best of Niyaz will officially be released, marking the end of a musical chapter. The band, including four other players and a whirling dervish, are embarking in a new direction that will again break creative boundaries and challenge comfortable conceptions of what a band can do.
“We have to move in a new direction, and Azam and I felt that the way to go would be to do it with integrated multimedia, not just with added visuals,” Torkian explains. “We found a very good visual artist in Montreal, Jerome DeLapierre, and we’ve created a new project called The Fourth Light. It’s a major, active, multimedia, immersive experience. It really interacts between the music and the movements on stages. [DeLapierre] actually tracks over 150 various parameters for what happens on stage and he translates that into visuals.”
This new direction is not just a vision that belongs to the couple. Niyaz is a proper collective and everyone has their input.
“They are really, more than just band members. They really are contributors and like a family to us, every one of them,” says Torkian, who includes Iman as the group’s tour manager. “There’s a lot of discussion and all the musicians that participate have that [fusion] characteristic in them. They’re all versed in different cultures, different vocabularies, it’s such a different world now.”
Sat., Mar. 18 (7:30 pm)
The Arden Theatre, $42