Among the many subgenres devised during Britain's 1990s electronica boom was "ethno-techno," which melded synthbeats with Asian and Arab melodies. The style's originators came mostly from the techno side, but it was only natural for "ethno" musicians to assume the controls. Thus such groups as Niyaz, a California electro-chant trio whose debut album is rooted in traditional Persian music. Iranian-born singer Azam Ali (formerly of Vas) spent most of her childhood in India, while multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian (of Axiom of Choice) moved from Iran to Oregon as a teenager.
The third member is Carmen Rizzo, a producer and remixer with rock, techno and world beat credits.
Rizzo's effects underpin the music of Niyaz (which means "yearning" in Persian and Urdu) but don't dominate it. Many of electronica's more distinctive rhythms are derived from Eastern music, and tabla, dombok and other traditional drums prove more supple and exhilarating than any beatbox on such upbeat Niyaz numbers as "Allahi Allah" (a folk tune) and "Golzar" (with lyrics by trendy Sufi medieval poet Rumi). Niyaz has its musical hierarchy: Ali's silky voice glides and soars across the top; intricate and mostly traditional instrumentation holds the center; and electronics are the foundation. But as such songs as "Dilruba" demonstrate, those elements can shift and swirl in an ecstatic dance.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Thursday at the Freer Gallery of Art.