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Iranian-Canadian ensemble Niyaz blends Middle Eastern music and dance with immersive multimedia and interactive technology

October 17, 2017

Niyaz performs its new show, "The Fourth Light Project."

With a commitment to bridging the East and West through art that promotes understanding and tolerance, Iranian-Canadian ensemble Niyaz performs a groundbreaking new show that combines performance and interactive technology at the Moss Arts Center on Nov. 3 at 8 p.m.

Inspired by the ensemble’s newest album, “The Fourth Light Project" will be held in the center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall.

An immersive multimedia experience where real and virtual worlds merge, the performance combines live music and sacred dance with interactive technology, advanced projection, and body-mapping techniques that respond to sound and movement in real time.

Niyaz embraces the idea that music can be a universal line of communication, highlighting shared human values and a desire for unity and serving as a sanctuary in the modern world of polarized ideologies.

The ensemble performs Sufi poetry and folk songs from their native Iran and surrounding countries in the Persian Gulf. The bewitching melancholy of front-woman Azam Ali’s voice is seamlessly blended into a production of richly textured acoustic arrangements, sweeping choruses, and electronic beats.

After three successful albums, which have placed it in front of audiences around the world, the band released its latest album, “The Fourth Light.” Mixed by Grammy-nominated producer and electronic musician Damian Taylor, who has worked with Björk, The Killers, and Arcade Fire, the album features lead singer, co-composer, and co-producer Ali in the role of electronic musician for the first time, programming all the beats for the album.

The ensemble sees “The Fourth Light” as a feminist album. In addition to Ali’s production and programming duties, the main source of inspiration for the album’s music is the first female Sufi mystic and poet Rabia Al Basri. Born in the 8th century in what is now Iraq, Al Basri was sold into slavery at a young age, defying the odds and finding the inner strength and resolve that would lead to her liberation both as a woman and a spiritual figure.

Al Basri is credited with the creation of the concept of divine love, which today lies at the heart of Sufi mysticism. Though only fragments of her poems have survived, her words carry a powerful message and served as the building blocks for three of the album’s most potent songs – “Tam e Eshq (The Taste of Love),” “Man Haramam (I Am a Sin),” and “Marg e Man (My Elegy).”

Prior to the performance, join Nadine Sinno, assistant professor of Arabic in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Virginia Tech, and ethnomusicologist Anne Elise Thomas as they lead a discussion on feminism, Sufism, music, and the enduring legacy of Al Basri. The free event begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Moss Arts Center Cube, but registration is required. To guarantee your seat, register online.

During their visit, Niyaz will be engaging with Virginia Tech students in the class, “Modern Arabic Literature in Translation,” as well as conducting a workshop with Itraab, a campus-community Arabic music ensemble supported by the Moss Arts Center.

This performance is part of the Moss Arts Center’s project, SALAAM: Exploring Muslim Cultures. Designed to raise awareness of Muslim identities and cultures and foster a more inclusive community among individuals from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, the multiyear project includes performances, visual arts exhibitions, workshops, and residencies. The project is made possible by a grant from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals; Building Bridges: Arts, Culture, and Identity, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.


Tickets for the performance are $20-45 for general public and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Kacy McAllister at 540-231-5300 or email during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to an event.