Founded in 2004, Niyaz is a collaboration between Montreal-based vocalist Azam Ali and multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian. Together, they’ve created a new 21st century global trance tradition by blending medieval Sufi poetry and folk songs from their native Iran and surrounding Persian Gulf countries with rich acoustic instrumentation and state-of-the-art modern electronics. In The Fourth Light Project, the group worked with visual artist Jerome Delapierre to create a cutting-edge, multi-sensory experience adapted from Niyaz’s 2015 album of the same name. The live music and sacred dance performance features interactive projections and body-mapping techniques that respond to sound and movement in real time. The innovative digital scenography and musical performance synthesizes sound, space, image, and light, creating a unique and immersive show that invites the audience inside the art to share in the experience. Check out a preview of the piece here.
We spoke with Niyaz ahead of their October 23rd performance of The Fourth Light Project at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul about breaking down artistic boundaries with visual artist Jerome Delapierre, their cultural roots in mystical Sufi poetry, and forming an identity as an immigrant in a new country. Read the full interview below and get tickets for the show here.
Q: You’ve called Montreal the “best home we’ve ever had.” Can you describe what it was like finding your niche in the Montreal arts community?
A: (Azam): We moved to Montreal for seven years because we wanted a change culturally as well as artistically. We were aware that a lot of cutting-edge work was being done in the visual arts and we really wanted to move in this direction with our band. We could not have created this show anywhere else and it was very inspiring for us. As for finding our niche, I think we have done that no matter where we live only because our music is a direct reflection of who we are and our histories.
Q: Tell us about the inclusion of Sufi poetry in The Fourth Light , your fifth release that came out in 2015 . How did these texts inspire your writing process?
A: (Loga): Poetry is a very important part of our cultural heritage. We are raised on poetry and it is also an important part of our traditional music. Therefore we have always been inspired by mystical poetry and it felt natural to incorporate that into our music.
Q: How did you end up collaborating with visual artist Jerome Delapierre to create a companion multimedia performance, The Fourth Light Project?
A: (Azam): We saw some of Jerome’s work with a few dance companies in Montreal and right away we knew he was the right artist to create this show with us. We were not sure if he would agree because he had never done a live music show before, but he is a true artist and very open to break boundaries, so he became very excited and we started working together.
Q: What do you think the live multimedia and dance aspects of The Fourth Light Project adds to the music?
A: (Loga): Our goal was to represent multiple art forms in one show. Dance always relies on music anyway so there was nothing new there, but to create a live show that is truly multi-disciplinary was very exciting for us.
Q: As Niyaz, you aim to tell a story of modern Iranian immigrants. Can you explain how that message fits into The Fourth Light Project?
A: (Azam): Our story is the story of what it feels like to be uprooted from your homeland and try to create a new home and identity in a new country without loosing connection to our roots. This story is universal to all immigrants and has no beginning and no end.
Q: What’s inspiring you right now?
A: (Loga): What is inspiring us is to find ways through music and art to bring together people of all different cultural and religious backgrounds.