|Birth name||Azam Aliafgerad|
|Occupations||Vocalist, Musician, songwriter, Composer|
|Instruments||Hammered Dulcimer, Frame Drum, Riqq, Zils, Chan Chan, Daf, Tanpura, Psaltery, Bendir|
|Labels||Narada, Six Degrees Records|
|Associated acts||Vas, Niyaz, Roseland|
In a Career which spans over a decade and includes twelve collaborative and solo albums, Azam Ali has confirmed her place as being one of the most prolific, versatile, and gifted singers on the world music stage today. Her dedication to defy cultural specificity in music, and her unwillingness to settle into one form of musical expression have earned her the respect of both her peers as well as critics worldwide. When one looks at her entire body of work, it is hard to deny Azam her rightful place among the best singers and composers in music today.
Azam Ali was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up in India from the age of four in the small town of Panchgani, a beautiful hill station in the state of Maharashtra. There she attended an international co- educational boarding school for eleven years, all the while absorbing India's rich music and culture throughout her formative years. The course Azam would eventually choose in her life would be very much influenced by her fortuitous upbringing in a school which emphasized the importance of the arts and spirituality, and aimed through moral and academic excellence to produce promoters of social transformation imbued with the spirit of service to mankind. It is this objective that would take shape in Azam's music in the coming years.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 changed the course of Azam's life as it did for many Iranian's. Unwilling to bring her daughter back to a country filled with uncertainty, like many other Iranians, her mother decided to give up her home and life, and together they moved to America in 1985 when Azam was just a teenager.
Shortly after moving to the United States Azam began studying the Santour (Persian Hammered Dulcimer), under the guidance of Persian master Manoocher Sadeghi. During the eight years of her extensive studies with Ustad Sadeghi in which she became an accomplished Santour player, Azam began to realize that she was unable to express the full range of emotions she experienced through her instrument. It was during one of these lessons that her teacher heard her sing for the first time. It was through his encouragement that Azam began to explore her voice as the vehicle through which she would finally be able to fully express herself, a voice which Billboard magazine would later describe as, "a glorious unforgettable instrument."
After receiving formal training in the Western classical vocal repertoire as well as early music, Azam extended her education into Indian, Persian and Eastern European singing techniques. But what would always remain at the center of Azam’s unique vocal style and compositions are the melodies which she grew up with in Iran and India. Through singing and music, Azam’s main objective is to explore the immense potentiality of the human voice, specifically its capability to transcend language, cultural, and spiritual barriers when expressing pure emotion. Although her natural inclination is towards the music in her heritage, Azam believes that honesty in one’s expression has the capability to communicate something universal about the human experience, regardless of the listener’s cultural origin.
“Through art, we have the ability to communicate with one another on a much higher level, but this level of communication can only take place when an artist has a very honest and clear intent. The audience is no fool. Anything less than this complete surrender on the part of an artist will not make this connection possible. And music because of its intangible nature is the most esoteric of the arts, so it has the capability to tear down all mental and emotional barriers. If I decide as a singer to reach this central point, I have to first be convinced of what I am singing about myself. Otherwise I am just singing a melody which will float by like a beautiful cloud that leaves no long lasting impression. The human voice has tremendous potential. It is not just a conduit for words. It has the ability to make all things transparent through its power of transformation. For me it is like an abstract dream in which everything makes perfect sense. A dream from which one can awaken from and be left with a profoundly deep impression of something indescribable"- Azam Ali
Azam first became internationally recognized for her work with Vas, the best selling world music duo she co-founded in 1996. From 1997- 2004 Azam released four albums with Vas on the Narada music label. Their music, which they described as "alternative world" focused mainly on the ancient relationship between the drum and voice. Their distinct cinematic sound blended influences of Indian, Persian, Western and other musical styles into a unique conundrum that transcended categorization and cultural specificity.
Currently living in Montreal, Canada, Azam’s latest world music project Niyaz which she co-founded in 2004, blends rich acoustic instrumentation and modern electronics with medieval Sufi poetry and folk songs from Iran, India, Pakistan, Turkey, and elsewhere in the Middle-East. With two critically acclaimed and best-selling albums released on Six Degrees Records, and a third due in May 2012, Niyaz has created a 21st century global trance tradition and have quickly become a standout ensemble in a very crowded world music field. Niyaz is considered by some critics to be one of the most groundbreaking groups of its time. Their self- titled debut album released in 2005 and their sophmore album Nine Heavens released in 2008, both debuted at #1 on itunes World music chart and remained there for numerous weeks. Both albums charted on Billboard's World music chart as well as on WMCE (World music charts Europe). Since 2005 Niyaz has been touring worldwide. With a debut concert in Delhi, India in March of 2005, Niyaz have since performed in Canada, the United States, France, Japan, Spain, Turkey, Italy, Dubai, Mexico, Croatia and Slovenia. Niyaz has performed in some of the most prominent festivals all over the world, as well as two prestigious showcases in 2006: Globalfest in New York City, and WOMEX in Sevilla, Spain. Azam continues to tour all over the world with Niyaz.
Aside from her ensemble work, Azam has released three highly successful solo albums. In 2002 Azam released her first self produced album, Portals of Grace, which featured Azam singing renditions of ancient Western European Medieval songs. Billboard described this album by saying that " It's unlikely that this year will bring a more spellbinding vocal album than Portals of Grace". Her exceptional voice and emotive performances on this album earned her much critical acclaim and once and for all solidified her place as a highly respected singer in the World music scene.
In 2006 Azam released her second solo album entitled Elysium for the Brave. The album signaled yet another turn in her musical evolution and was considered her most ambitious work to date, bringing together musicians from varied musical backgrounds performing in various permutations. Singing predominantly in English for the first time, the songs are based on lyrics written by Azam herself and reveal a poetic lyricism heard only in glimpses in her previous works. Helping to seamlessly bring all of these diverse sounds together, a talented cast of musicians are featured on the album including King Crimson's rhythm section of Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto, Persian classical violinist Kiavash Nourai, Loga Ramin Torkian and Carmen Rizzo, Azam's collaborators in Niyaz, and noted film composers Tyler Bates and Jeff Rona, the latter of whom is known for his collaborations with Dead Can Dance. The result is a highly cohesive body of work that seamlessly weaves together all of Azam's cultural and musical influences into a haunting tapestry of atmospheric rock, electronic, and global sounds.
In 2011 Azam released her third and most personal solo album, From Night to the Edge of Day. which was nominated for Canada’s JUNO award in 2012 in the category of best world music album. Dedicated to and inspired by her son Iman Ali Torkian, the album is a lush, sophisticated and deeply moving body of work, in which Azam renders heart-wrenching performances of both traditional as well as original lullabies in various languages from the Middle-East, augmented by performances from some of the most renowned instrumentalists from these regions, as well as a beautiful live Western string quartet from Montreal. This album was partly funded by Musicaction in Montreal which is a very prestigious endorsement by the government of Canada as only a handful of artists receive this recognition and support yearly.
Azam's immense talent and ability to adapt her voice to any musical style have drawn the attention of many diverse artists. Azam has collaborated in studio and on stage with Serj Tankian of System of a Down, The Crystal Method, Pat Mastellato and Trey Gunn of King Crimson, Dredg, Chris Vrenna formerly of Nine Inch Nails, Ben Watkins of Juno Reactor, Buckethead, Steve Stevens, Mercan Dede, the world renowned Japanese group Kodo, Zakir Hussain, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, and Mickey Hart with whom she also toured for two years as a lead singer in his group Bembe Orisha.
Word of Azam Ali’s talent quickly spread through Hollywood as well. Azam has worked with many world renowned film composers such as Harry Gregson- Williams, Mychael Danna, Graeme Revell, Ramin Djawadi, Brian Tyler, Michael Giachinno, Christopher Young, Tyler Bates, Jeff Rona etc. Azam's distinctive voice can be heard on myriad film and television scores among which include "Matrix- Revolutions", “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”, "Godsend", “The Priest”, “John Carter”, "Papparazi", "The Nativity Story", "Speed Racer", “Lara Croft-:Tomb raider”, “The Fight Club”, “Season of the witch”, "Children of Dune", "Earthsea", "Dawn of the Dead", “True Blood”, "Alias", "The Agency, and "Prison Break".
Azam has also made major vocal and musical contributions to several big video games which include “Uncharted 3”, “Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands” and “Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow”, for which she won “best original song” at the Hollywood Music Awards in 2007,
"I am pertinacious in my need to expand. By nature, I am not one who can physically remain in one place for too long. I imagine that is the case because I have been transplanted enough times in my life to be well aware of the influence the external environment has on the inner one, and how that can affect perception. So naturally, my music is going to reflect this inability to remain static, and this inability to identify myself with just one specific culture. I think of all the different music that I have done and will continue to do almost as photographs of my evolution, and just like photographs, in some I may look great and in some I may not. What matters to me is that I risk, I, trust, I strive, and let the truth lead me where it may."- Azam Ali
- Portals of Grace (2002)
- Elysium for the Brave (2006)
- From the Night to the Edge of Day (2011)
- Lamentation of Swans- A journey towards silence (2013)