When Mohammad Firoozi sings, people dance. Maybe not by moving their feet, but definitely inside their minds. Trained as a boy in Iran to sing the Muslim call to prayer, Firoozi's voice conjures images of whirling dervishes and the poems of great Sufi mystics. Combined with the syncopated hand drums, dueling violins, jazz bass and flamenco guitar of his World Music ensemble Atash, his lyrics create a spiritual groove that shoots listeners back in time and rockets them into a different dimension.
Atash means "fire" in Farsi — the language Firoozi sings in — and they've been burning their way through Taiwan. Named No. 3 World Music band and No. 10 Latin band by readers of their hometown newspaper, the Austin Chronicle, these Texans scorched the stages at Spring Scream with their other-worldly sound, then kindled a more intimate blaze earlier this week at three clubs in Taipei. Now they're taking their unique fusion of Middle Eastern, African, Indian and Western classical music with jazz and rock to Taichung, for two concerts that live music fans should not miss.
"This doesn't happen very often here," said Patrick Byrne, a jazz saxophonist who jammed with Atash after one of their three Spring Scream sets. Atash plays at his Groovecity club tonight, before moving to Alu Cafe for their final Taiwan performance tomorrow. Byrne said there's a "huge buzz" going around Taichung as a result of fans who saw the Texans in Kenting, and he expects his venue to be packed.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF BARBIE CHANG
Using the words "unique" and "completely different" to describe the rocking, mystical sound of Atash has become a cliche by this point, but it's one that deserves repeating, especially in a country where indigenous World Music tends to mean ethno-pop artists reconnecting with local traditions, or New Age purveyors of mood music on themes such as tea drinking.
Atash's lineup includes formally trained US-born musicians such as percussionist Jason McKenzie, as well as instrumentalists steeped in the traditions of other countries. Djembe player Alseny Sylla is from Guinea and also leads an African drum troupe. Flamenco guitarist Christian Fernandez grew up with the music in a French gypsy family.
"It's a true fusion of musical traditions, not a sampling of global instruments and forms without a true understanding of where the music comes from," said Nathan Davis, a musician and DJ from Austin who organized two of Atash's Taipei performances.
It's also a complicated sound that has no name in the music industry's lexicon. "We've been described as a Persian group, as dance trance music, as Persian groove," said Atash violinist John Moon. "I've heard us described in so many different ways, but it's never been hit head on."
On Wednesday night at Peshawar music cafe near Shida, Firoozi engaged in a kind of duet with violinist Roberto Riggio, while other band members layered djembe and tabla drums, an upright bass and a second violin. Alternatively dancing and twirling his shirt, or nodding backwards and smiling, eyes half-closed, Firoozi sang poems about the Sufi mystics Rumi and Hafz. "We just sit and play," he told the small audience after one piece. "The song we played right now we just" improvised. "We never rehearsed it before." Soon after that he was dancing with a female audience member to what sounded like flamenco. Later, two musicians in the audience joined Riggio to cover Cat Stevens and Police songs. It was a small venue and a small audience in a small country, but Atash played a long set with a huge amount of energy.
Taking a break by the beer cooler as the Peshawar show was winding down, Firoozi explained Atash's philosophy: "What we really want to do is bring some happiness into people's lives. We know that when people listen to music, they come together for a while and they forget about the daily problems of life. As much as we do that for them, we also do that for ourselves. Because when we all are in a room playing music, we all become one."
Atash performs tonight from 8:30pm to midnight at Groovecity inside TigerCity (台中老虎城旁停車場) at 120 Henan Rd Sec 3, Taichung (台中市河南路三段120號老虎城). There is a NT$300 minimum charge. Visit www.grooveyardtaiwan.com or call 0939-574-737 for more information.
Tomorrow, from 4pm to 10pm, Atash and indie band .22 will be featured at a Spring Scream party at Alu Cafe, at 10-5 Shuangshi Rd Sec1 Taichung (台中市雙十路一段10-5號). NT$300 entrance includes one drind. For more information, call (04) 2225-0088 or visit www.alucafe.com
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