Built around the captivating voice of the Iranian-born singer Azam Ali, the fusion of Sufi mysticism and electronic trance beats pursued by the Montreal-based outfit Niyaz has grown more assured with each of their four albums to date. The group’s early work was gauche and clumsy but since then their blend of Arabic traditions and contemporary styles has developed into a more seamless and less self-conscious hybrid. After several personnel changes, Niyaz is now a duo, with Ali being accompanied by her multi-instrumentalist co-writer and husband Loga R Torkian. His support is doubtless invaluable, but it is Ali who dominates, not only with her spellbinding voice but also in programming all the beats.
The strongly feminist album concept is hers, too, taking its inspiration from the pioneering eighth-century female Sufi mystic and poet Rabia al Basri. Only fragments of her verse survive, but Ali has constructed three of the album’s strongest tracks around them, with ‘Tam e Eshq’ (The Taste of Love) being the standout. ‘Aurat’ (Woman), a plea for gender equality, is based on a poem by the 20th-century Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi and other tracks draw on folk songs from Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan. Despite the diversity of the source material, there’s a pleasing cohesion to the textured arrangements; the fusion of traditional Arabic instrumentation and electronica that once sounded so awkward now sounds masterful.