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Interview With: Azam Ali
 
"Regardless of the type of music that I do, I feel there is one underlying element and that is that it is introspective even if it has a beat to it or is rock. It revolves around different issues that I struggle with and live with every day," said Azam Ali, one of the most gifted singers and composers to come our way in a very long time.  
 
In listening to the CD Elysium For the Brave, Ali's vocals remind one of the ethereal voices belonging to Enya and Loreena McKennitt yet she retains her own distinctive quality. Ali borders on the surrealistic vibes of Enigma, while practicing cultural genre blending that utilizes a host of middle eastern and traditional instruments such as the Indian tabla, Turkish Dhol, Darbuka (Arabic), a warr guitar, hammered dulcimer (Iran) and a cool instrument known as the guitar viol. To that mix, she adds electric, acoustic and bass guitars, supported by keyboards and a regular drum kit. In songs such as "pring Arrives" a steady drone provides depth. Carmen Rizzo's electronica and synthesizer shadow the notes of her compositions.  
 
The Iranian singer, who spent her childhood in India and in her teens along with her mother moved to Los Angeles, presents us with music that will transcend the world in which you live. She takes you on a breathtaking journey that begins with the opening track "Endless Reverie" and sadly (for us) ends on the final note of "In This Divide." 
 
In discussing her music, Ali does not focus on the individual facets of her career as a composer, singer or instrumentalist. "When people ask me what I do I say I am a professional singer and it always seems a little strange because I don't associate myself with doing that because I was an instrumentalist first. I look at these things as helping me to achieve my goal. I think art in general is supposed to do that. It is not (an attempt to) escape but it is because we want that person with the capability to show us something more (so we can) come out of ourselves. That's why I go to the arts. That is why I go to the museum or read a book or listen to music, they are things that will take me out of myself. In order for that to happen for someone coming to you, you have to do that first for yourself," she said. 
 
One could spend all day talking about the myriad of experiences and gifts that have contributed to beautiful songs such as the sweeping "Forty One Ways" and the multiple layered "Abode" that adorn the CD  Elysium For the Brave, but there are two qualities to her music that become immediately apparent. The first is Ali's willingness to stand naked and be completely vulnerable within her music. She said, "Regardless of the type of music that I do I feel there is one underlying element and that is that it is introspective even if it has a beat to it or is rock. It revolves around different issues that I struggle with and live with every day." 
 
Ali boldly approaches her music and seemingly lacks fear to tread where others have yet to pass. "I think taking risks is really important in life and in music. It is really easy (not to) when you become very successful at doing just one thing and you can easily just keep doing the same thing over and over again," she said. 
 
When the subject is raised concerning the transparency that often exists between the electronic grooves and hand played instruments on Elysium For the Brave she replied, "I think that is the best compliment that anyone can give us because that is the thing we worked hardest to achieve on this album. When we set out do the project our goal was to create an album that had a balance between the acoustic and electronic elements. (We wanted to ensure) that neither was compromised, especially the acoustic instruments and the acoustic performances." 
 
"I love electronic music but a lot of what you have out there (in other music) is an electronic beat and then they just slap a singer or an instrumentalist onto the music once it is complete. Depending on what you are trying to do that sometimes sounds good but it is not (reflect) my personal taste," she said. 
 
The musicians, including her husband Loga Aamin Torkian, recorded their music and then Ali laid down the vocal tracks prior to taking the music to Rizzo. "When we took the music to Carmen he created all the electronic elements around what we had recorded. None of the arrangements or performances was compromised. It became very clear as to the amount of space that he had to add things while it also became very clear if he added too much and you were going to lose some of the quality of the instruments. I think that surprises a lot of people because it is usually done the other way around," said Ali. 
 
Ali made the point that the electronica is present to enhance (the music) that had already been created and not to supplant it. "We picked sounds that worked with all of the elements. If he had all the beats before (we had the music) it would not have the same effect. It all blended really well together and we worked really hard to achieve that," she said.  
 

In North America in recent years, we have begun to experience the infusion of music from multiple cultural influences and genres are becoming more blurred. Jazz and world music have been the leaders in creating new sub genres and music that simply defies labeling.  The real melting pot for music however is in Europe and in some ways that should not be surprising because of the proximity to so many diverse cultures and the Middle East. Despite the fact she moved to the United States at a young age Ali has discovered that her own music has a stronger following in Europe than at home in North America. "In France you can watch MTV and go from an American rock band (on one video) to an Algerian (music) video,"  said Ali.  
 
Elysium For the Brave represents a departure for Azam Ali from her earlier music and continues the experimentation that has defined her most recent years. "I did five albums of really acoustic music and I didn't know if I would have anything more to say in this way after the (solo project) was done. I felt if I did another album like that, it would not have been honest. Honesty is for me the most important thing in any art form. I can feel it whether I am reading a book, looking at a painting or listening to music. The thing that I see comes through or not come through the most is the sincerity of the artist. One of the driving forces for me has always been to do something where I can really be honest," said Ali. 
 
An essay such as this concerning Ali's career cannot even begin to do justice to this wonderfully talented and humble artist. In 2002, she recorded Portals of Grace, an album comprised of medieval melodies inspired by the music of German nun Hildegard Von Bingen ("Sybil of the Rhine") a theologian and visionary of the 12 th century whose works and opinions were well respected by the ecclesia of the day.  Portals of Grace bears Judeo-Spanish, French Provencal, Sephardic, Latin, Byzantine and Arabic influences. 
 
Ali's soprano vocals and compositions are continually in demand by major film studios. Her voice has decorated the scores for movies such as Paparazzi, Matrix Revolutions, The Agency, and Alias, which generated the television series of the same name. In the spring of this year, her vocals will highlight the Warner Bros. picture 300 directed by Zach Snyder. 
 
Ali expresses gratitude for the opportunities that have come her way in the film industry and uses works like "accidental" and "luck" to describe her fortune. As to the creation of her albums, she refers to them in the collaborative sense seldom using the word "I" and often deferring to "we" in discussing her accomplishments.  
 
One comes away from listening to Ali's music and conversing with her believing that she has only just touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of her talent and that the best is yet to come.

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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