Niyaz’s elaborate sound and overriding message on “Sumud” can be summed up in a single, bumper-sticker-friendly, word: coexist.
“Sumud,” which translates from Arabic to “steadfastness,” is an alternately roundabout and direct call for acceptance of ethnic and religious minorities, particularly in Middle Eastern countries. To create the release, the Iranian-born/North American-based married couple Azam Ali and Loga Ramin Torkian, plus Los Angeles-based third member Carmen Rizzo, build their music on traditional songs from Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan, Kurdish folk music and interpretations of works by 17th century Alevi-Bektashi poets and 11th century poet/mystic Baba Taher.
The resulting songs convey universal themes of pain and love, suffering and peace.
There’s another layer of coexisting going on here: The three members of Niyaz have distinctly different (and potentially contradictory) skills and equally important roles in the act’s ultimate sound. Vocalist Ali has an ethereal voice that could command a cappella. Torkian deftly handles a range of evocative instruments (on “Sumud” that includes kamaan, robab, saz, djumbush, lafta and guitar viol) that could likewise stand alone. And Rizzo’s electronic programming (plus drums and percussion) would seem to be at odds with both Torkian’s acoustic instrumentation and Ali’s preternatural voice. (It’s no wonder all three members also produce music independent of each other.)
Yet they improbably come together on “Sumud” to create magic, an East-meets-West brew of the ancient, the futuristic and the timeless. Sometimes harkening cult favorite Dead Can Dance, Niyaz stomps out of the gate with propulsive percussion and a bittersweet air on “Parishaan” and later works into a transcendent churn on “Dertli,” courtesy of Rizzo. Ali’s expressiveness breaks language barriers on the darkly rhythmic “Shah Sanam” and “Masooz,” her wails and moans prompting soul-probing goose bumps. And Torkian’s exotic instruments (to Western ears at least) are hypnotic from beginning to end.
However, it’s not as if one of the members of Niyaz steals the spotlight. They succeed by working together.
And that’s the point of “Sumud’s” bigger picture, too.
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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