Najma Akhtar, vocalist, composer and actor, has been at the forefront of the World Music scene for the last two decades. Even though born and raised in England and a graduate in Chemical Engineering, Najma has remained rooted in the music of India, her ancestral home.
Najma has proved to be a successful and versatile artist and is renowned for using modern jazz influences with Indian vocals creating a beautiful fusion of eastern and western styles. Najma always brings her own musical heritage into the spotlight while eliminating all musical boundaries. This has led to the release of 7 solo albums and also the opportunity to have artistic collaborations with some of the worlds most influential and credible musicians. Throughout her career, Najma has made numerous radio and TV appearances all over the world.
Although she did not receive formal training in Indian classical music, Najma taught herself the harmonium, learnt basic vocal technique with Ustad Naeem Solaria and received guidance from other prominent South Asian classical artists. Najma emerged as a musician when world music was gaining popularity and had the opportunity of performing at Peter Gabriel's 'WOMAD' and Jazz stages at the Glastonbury, Reading and other European festivals. Najma is one of the very first artists to have created a place in musical history in terms of world music by having given birth to a new genre fusion of Jazz and Indian Ghazal. Her work and presence on the World music scene had led to a new wave of inspired Asian artists of Indian decent following in her footsteps. Najma Akhtar is regarded as a pioneer of this fusion sound with respect to Indian Semi Classical, Ghazal and Jazz.
Based in London in the late 1960's, Najma's father set up a successful printing business that was connected with the Indian Film industry (known presently as Bollywood). Mr Saleem Akhtar was well connected to all the major film distributors, film directors and certain actors at the time; it was a time when Indian films were shown in every major city in the UK. Some cities or even areas had 2 or 3 cinemas, such as Southall and Wembley in London. So Najma was periodically exposed to this gamut of colour and energy and so she grew up on a heavy dosage of Indian film music, language and culture.
The stereotypical thing for Asian children was to either become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Therefore music as a career was never encouraged and the emphasis was always on higher education. However, it was during the course of her degree that music crept into her life, initially as a hobby and later with the support of family and friends she was able to take music a step further. The journey from receiving her first 'second hand almost falling to bits harmonium' to her first solo stage performance in a song competition that she won, led her to India where she recorded her very first album "Ghazals by Najma" with the renowned music director Ravi.
In 1987, Najma released her first recording in the UK with Triple Earth, "Qareeb" (Closeness). Universally acclaimed "Qareeb" was a groundbreaking and first of its kind recording in World Music, as it was a fusion of Jazz and Indian Ghazals based on Urdu poems.
Najma's follow up to "Qareeb", "Atish" (Fire), released in 1989, reached #4 on Billboard's World Music Chart and combines a number of musical styles, including Qawwali.
Najma's third recording, "Pukar" (Calling You), was released in 1992 and includes a mix of Persian, Indian and African instruments. The title track was used in a Fuji Bank television commercial in Japan, where sales of "Pukar" reached upwards of 50,000 copies.
In 1996, Najma released "Forbidden Kiss" which is a beautiful tribute to legendary Indian composer S.D. Burman, equivalent in South Asia to George Gershwin or Irving Berlin. On this tribute, Najma collaborated with Chris Rael from the New York City group Church of Betty.
In 2002 Najma released "Vivid", which was described by Najma as "Indian Gothic." "Vivid" combined elements of Indian, Arabic and Western classical music to deliver a hypnotic cutting edge album.
Najma's 7th album released in 2009, "Fariyaad" translated as "A plea to the creator" was recorded and produced at G - Point Studios in Paris by Serge Glanzberg. Musicians from very diverse cultures and backgrounds were used, adding even more multiculturalism to the flavour of Najma's past works. With Fariyaad, Najma continues to cross over into the jazz world; this time she incorporated Mediterranean influences and instruments.
Summer 2009 sees the release of 'RISHTE' (Relationships). 'Rishte', is on the Harmonia Mundi /World Village label. In this album, Najma has collaborated with the renowned Grammy nominated New York based guitarist Gary Lucas. Gary is known for his work with the band Captain Beef heart and the late Jeff Buckley. Using the Blues, soft rock and Indian influences 'RISHTE' stands out as another milestone in terms of crossover music. The eclectic experiences, richness and musical sensibility of both artists have brought to life a very unique and soulful album.
Najma appeared with Plant and Page on their MTV unplugged special which was recorded and released as a DVD and an album titled "No Quarter", and later toured with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Najma has also collaborated with many of the world's most influential musical artists including, Basement Jaxx, Jah Wobble, "Take me to God"; Andy Summers, "The Golden Wire"; Philip Glass, "Liquid Days"; Steve Coleman, "Black Science"; Jethro Tull, "Dot Com" and Stan Harrison "The Optimist".
Najma's earlier live performances were described as brilliant as, when she was part of Peter Gabriel's WOMAD tour. Najma has toured extensively in Europe, North America and Asia, and has headlined on the jazz stages at numerous festivals including Reading, Glastonbury, Lille and The Palestinian Jazz Festival in Jerusalem. Najma has had many incredible highlights in her career, but one that is most special to her, is being asked by Nina Simone's management to perform with her at the London Dominion Theatre for a two-night engagement.
Najma's voice can be heard on numerous motion picture soundtracks including Hanif Kureishi's film, "Sammy and Rosie get Laid", "People I Know" starring Al Pacino and Kim Bassinger and Robert Altman's film, "Prêt a Porter". In 2002 Najma collaborated with composer and musician Steve Beresford to write the thirteen song soundtrack of "Bollywood Queen", the British-Bollywood film directed by Jeremy Wooding and in 2008 also co-wrote a track for the sound track of the film 'Brick Lane'
As an actor, Najma made her debut at London's prestigious National Theatre in their production of "Haroon and The Sea of Stories", adapted from the Salman Rushdie book and directed by Tim Supple. In 2002 Najma wrote, composed and acted in a Tara Arts production called "Journey to the West" at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester, England. In addition to her live theatre credits, Najma played a lead role in a United Kingdom Urdu TV drama production, "Kismet Road" seen on Asian television in 2000.
When Najma is not singing or acting, she can be found teaching or lecturing music at the University of Westminster or conducting workshops at The Trinity College of Music. Najma's talent for teaching vocal technique is always in high demand for theatre groups throughout England, including Andrew Lloyd Weber's Really Useful Group, and in 2002 Najma was brought in by the Group to help coach the London West End musical cast of "Bombay Dreams".
As a performer, Najma is always willing to lend her talent to humanitarian benefit concerts and events such as to the Bangladesh flood relief fund, Bosnia Relief Fund, Oxfam, Asian Live Aid, Tsunami and many more. As a compassionate world citizen, Najma becomes an active participant, such as when Najma went to Bosnia in 1996 after the war to fill in for one of the many teachers lost during the war. When word spread that Najma Akhtar was going to Bosnia during Ramadan, which is also a time of compulsory charitable donations, Muslims around the world sent her donations. Surprised, but delighted, that this money was being sent to her, Najma felt the enormous responsibility to distribute it fairly. Najma personally delivered the funds to the desperate citizens in various refugee camps throughout the country, despite the hardships of difficult travel conditions and sub-zero temperatures. In Najma's words, "The devastation and confusion was rife, nevertheless it was a memorable experience."
In 2005, during what was to have been a brief visit to Islamabad, Najma experienced the 7.8 magnitude of the Kashmir earthquake and as buildings around her crumbled and fell, she knew that she was one of the blessed ones to have escaped with her life. Seeing the shear desperation and dire situation of the people, Najma decided to remain there and help. During this six-month period, she worked closely with the UN and the U.S. government and other International organisation such as DHL in organizing the personal delivery of supplies to the earthquake victims. Najma also documented the peoples' struggle in great detail with her writings, which were either full of pain or promise but were always sincere. It was because of these writings, numerous benefit concerts were held around the world for the victims. The proceeds from these concerts enabled Najma to purchase necessities for the victims, including blankets, clothing, and food. Najma then personally monitored the distribution to guarantee immediate and direct delivery to the victims. Najma continues to be involved in various charity causes.
(Biography supplied by artist management 2009. Photograph by Stephane Grandvaux)
A world class guitar hero, a Grammy-nominated songwriter and composer, an international recording artist with over 20 acclaimed solo albums to date, and a soundtrack composer for film and television, GARY LUCAS is on the move in 2009. He was just cited as one of the "100 Greatest Living Guitarists" in Classic Rock (UK). His latest album, a collaboration with Indian vocalist Najma Akhtar, is currently #4 on the World Music Charts Europe. This summer Gary sold-out the Holland Festival in Amsterdam 2 nights running with a new live silent film score, made his performing debuts in South Korea and Latin America, recorded a new album with legendary Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham in Bogota Colombia, and rocked festivals in France, Brazil and Spain.
Dubbed "The Thinking Man's Guitar Hero" by The New Yorker, "The world's most popular avant-rock guitarist" by The Independent (UK), "Legendary Leftfield guitarist" by The Guardian (UK), "Guitarist of 1000 Ideas" by The New York Times, "a true axe God" by Melody Maker, and "One of the five best guitarists in the world" by the national Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny, the British world music magazine fRoots recently described Gary Lucas as "without question, the most innovative and challenging guitarist playing today." Rolling Stone's David Fricke wrote: "Gary Lucas is one of the best and most original guitarists in America" in a review of Gary's latest avant-rock album "Coming Clean",. Gary was also selected by the editors of DownBeat Magazine as one of their "Hot 66 6-Stringers",
Gary Lucas tours the world relentlessly both solo and with several different ensembles, including his longtime band Gods and Monsters, whose ranks once included the late singer Jeff Buckley. Gary co- wrote two of Jeff Buckley's most famous hits, "Grace" and "Mojo Pin", which later became the title track and the opening track on Jeff's double platinum Sony album "Grace" - which MOJO magazine recently named the #1 Modern Classic Rock Album. Gary and Jeff's early collaborations can also be heard on the recent Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas album "Songs to No One", which charted internationally with worldwide sales approaching 100,000. Other notable Lucas releases include "The Edge of Heaven", an album of Gary Lucas' lush arrangements of classic 1930's Chinese pop songs, which was #1 on the World Music charts and received rave reviews around the world from Rolling Stone to the Hong Kong Music Weekly. Gary's compilation of the best of his early band and solo work entitled "Operators are Standing By" garnered a 4-star MOJO review: "This album confirms Gary Lucas as THE psychedelic guitarist for the post-modern set." Most of Gary's extensive back catalog as well as his current releases were recently licensed for digital distribution by IODA, and are now available on iTunes and on digital portals worldwide.
Gary continues to lead his longtime NYC-based band Gods and Monsters, a super-group based around Gary's guitar playing, singing, and songwriting, featuring Billy Ficca (Television) and Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers), along with Jason Candler and Joe Hendel They recently played a Live Nation booked 20th Anniversary Show in NYC, and have a new live DVD and studio album wrapped produced by Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads). Gary is also collaborating with the UK Indian vocalist Najma Akhtar, and their debut album "Rishte" was released this summer to 5 star reviews, with an upcoming tour in the works. Gary also plays with vocalist Dean Bowman in their spiritual roots project Chase the Devil, with an upcoming European tour and debut album release set. He also plays in electronica duo Wild Rumpus with DJ Cosmo, and they have released 3 successful 12 inch singles to date. Gary Lucas also co-leads Fast 'N' Bulbous, devoted to the music of avant--rock visionary Captain Beefheart,, who first put Gary Lucas on the musical map as a force to be reckoned with.
Gary Lucas makes his home in NYC
(Biography supplied by artist management 2009)