Azam Ali was born in Tehran, Iran in 1970 and grew up in India from the age of four in the small town of Panchgani, a hill station in the state of Maharashtra. There she attended an international co-educational boarding school for eleven years, all the while absorbing India's music and culture throughout her formative years. The course Azam would eventually choose in her life would be very much influenced by her fortuitous upbringing in a school which emphasized the importance of the arts and spirituality, and aimed through moral and academic excellence to produce promoters of social transformation imbued with the spirit of service to mankind. It is this objective that would take shape in Azam's music in the coming years.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 changed the course of Azam's life, as it did for many Iranians. Unwilling to bring her daughter back to a country filled with uncertainty, her mother decided to give up her home and life, and together they moved to America in 1985 when Azam was just a teenager.
Shortly after moving to the United States, it became clear for Azam that she wanted to pursue a career in music after falling in love with the Persian santour (hammered dulcimer). Though Azam had an innate gift for singing since she was a child and sang often at home and school functions, she had no particular interest in becoming a vocalist. She had her heart set on becoming an instrumentalist and so began studying the santour under the guidance of Persian master Manoocher Sadeghi. During the eight years of her extensive studies with Ustad Sadeghi, in which she became an accomplished hammered dulcimer player, Azam began to realize that she was unable to express the full range of emotions she experienced through her instrument. It was during one of these lessons that her teacher heard her sing for the first time. Completely taken, he told her that her voice had a rare emotional quality about it which should be cultivated and nurtured. It was through his encouragement that Azam began to explore her voice as the vehicle through which she would finally be able to fully express herself, a voice which Billboard magazine would later describe as "a glorious unforgettable instrument."
While pursuing formal training in various vocal traditions, like Western classical, Indian, Persian and Eastern European, Azam's true passion has been to explore the immense potentiality of the human voice, specifically its capability to transcend language, culture and spiritual barriers when expressing pure emotion. When asked about her approach to singing, Azam explains: "What intrigues me most about the human voice, is its ability to make all things transparent through its power of transformation. The voice is not just a conduit for words. For me it is like an abstract dream in which everything makes perfect sense."
Currently living in Los Angeles, Azam is internationally recognized for her work with Vas, the critically acclaimed, best selling, world music duo she co-founded in 1996 with percussionist Greg Ellis. From 1997 - 2004 Vas has released four albums on the Narada music label. Their music, which they described as "alternative world", focused mainly on the ancient relationship between the drum and the voice. Their distinct sound blended influences of Indian, Persian, Western and other musical styles. Though in their early days Vas drew many comparisons to Dead Can Dance, they surpassed that comparison with each album they released, earning them their place in the musical hierarchy of bands whose innovation set a standard for other to aspire to.
Film and television
Azam's voice can be heard on a myriad of film and television projects. She has worked extensively with composer Brian Tyler on his scores for Paparazzi, Godsend and especially on the Children Of Dune, where she performed the song "Inama Nushif". She also performs vocals for the theme to the show Prison Break.
Other works include Battlefield Earth, The Legend Of Earthsea, Dawn Of The Dead and Matrix Revolutions, performing the song "Navras" together with bandmate Greg Ellis, Ben Watkins of Juno Reactor and Laxmi Shankar. She also performed leading vocals for the choir-driven soundtrack in 2007's comic book-based epic film 300, composed by Tyler Bates.
More recently, she has also performed on the controversial mini-series The Path To 9/11.
Beside Vas, Azam is also the singer of the Iranian band Niyaz, consisting of herself, Loga Ramin Torkian and Grammy-award winning producer Carmen Rizzo. Niyaz, an acoustic electronic project that puts the words of Sufi poets to music, has garnered much acclaim and succes, recently performing on the Vancouver Jazz Festival.
Azam is also a very prolific guest perfomer and her distinctive voice can be found on many albums, such as One by Yuval Ron, released in 2003 on Magda Records. This release, essentially by a middle eastern supergroup, also features Omar Faruk Tekbilek and Yair Dalal, as well as Haim Louk, Pejman Hadadi and Nabil Azzam
Further collaborations include the song "Coma" on the album Enter The Chicken by Buckethead and appearances on albums by Dredg, Steve Stevens, Kondo and Slow Motion Reign.