We asked Azam Ali 10 questions about transcendent visual and musical group Niyaz - here are his insightful answers...
1. What inspired the creation of Niyaz?
We created Niyaz as a platform to explore our cultural identity and love for the ancient poetry and folk songs of our region in a modern context. We wanted to tell the story of our generation of Iranian immigrants who are trying to find our place in the world within the culture of our homeland in the East and the culture of our new home in the West. Our aim was and still is to bring these two seemingly disparate elements of music together, and create a bridge between the past and the present, the East and West, and unite audiences from different backgrounds in a shared human experience.
2. How was the name Niyaz chosen?
Niyaz means “yearning” in several languages: Farsi, Turkish, Urdu, as well as many Farsi-based dialects in Afghanistan and Central Asia. We loved the idea of choosing a word that had a shared meaning among different cultures because that is a big message in our music. We also chose the name because it has a very spiritual component. Niyaz is a yearning for something greater and deeper related to the soul and its search for truth. The spiritual impact of music is something we also aim to preserve.
3. How does your work connect to the larger world?
The most impactful art is that which stems from honesty. When you are truthful in what you express, it naturally connects to people’s hearts. I’ve seen it time and time again and this is why we have legends in music, painting, writing, etc. I hope that our music will have such a legacy.
4. What is a typical rehearsal and/or performance day like?
Rehearsal days are more relaxed because we take a lot of breaks and eat, talk with one another. On shows days, each of us is extremely focused on what needs to get done to make the show run smoothly. Sometimes it gets stressful, but for the most part we all work together to ensure that when the show begins we can give our very best to the audience.
5. Pick five words—that start with the letter ‘N’—that best describe NIYAZ.
Nostalgic, Nothingness, Nourishment, Nowhere, Now
6. What moves the company to create a new project (e.g.: a musical piece or life experience)?
We are mostly inspired by the music we hear and are constantly listening to different kinds of music. We usually start writing and producing songs as a way to remain inspired and explore new ideas. When we have a few pieces recorded, the new project begins to take shape and that’s when we decide to really focus on creating a new full album.
7. How do you manage to push the boundaries of world music while staying true to your Middle Eastern roots?
Authenticity is very important for us so we never dilute the essence of a folk melody or a poem. We try to keep that intact by first performing all the acoustic elements and actually composing a song with proper verses, choruses and instrumental interludes. Once that has taken shape we slowly begin to add electronic beats and sounds with the intent of enhancing what is already there. Our goal is to create a true hybrid of acoustic and electronic music. This is a bit of an unusual approach because most producers first create electronic music and then record some ethnic vocals or instruments over the electronic bed. This approach lacks form and direction so we avoid writing that way. Actual songwriting is very important to us.
8. What is the best advice that you have been given?
Never stop writing and creating.
9. Whom do you define as a visionary?
Visionaries are those who have a very clear picture in their mind’s eye about what they want to create. The process of creation is a journey of self-discovery, learning, defeat and triumph. However, the vision always remains intact as a source of inspiration and we continuously strive to get closer to it.
10. What do you hope the audience will take away from your performance?
When an audience comes to our show, I want them to forget who they are, where they were born and what they believe. I want them for that moment in time that we are together, to transcend all the walls and boundaries that divide us and to feel connected to something deeper, which I believe is our shared humanity.
Niyaz will be at WAC April 13, 2017, at 7pm. Tickets are $10. Don't miss out!