NOA: ISRAELI SONGSTRESS SEEKS PEACE
By Paul Freeman [March 2012 Interview]
Noa, Israel’s leading international concert and recording artist, is a crusader for peace. “Music brings people together on a higher level. It helps us remember all that we have in common, as opposed to all that separates us. Having said that, music is not going to bring peace all on its own. We are not naive enough to believe that. It must be part of a movement, with responsibility shared by all, politicians, businessmen, taste-makers and every citizen alike.”
Her current set is a selection from all of her albums with a special spotlight on her latest recording, "The Israeli Songbook." Noa tells Pop Culture Classics,“There are songs in English, Hebrew and Yemenite that reflect my own diverse background and 22 years of work as a singer/songwriter/percussionist, in collaboration with arranger/guitarist Gil Dor.”
Over that 22 years, her music has evolved. “Having three children has had a great impact, as has traveling around the world, learning languages, listening to endless wonderful music, meeting fascinating people, getting involved in the Israeli political plethora and working for many humanitarian organizations. All this has had a deep effect on my writing, playing, singing... being.”
The 42-year-old Tel Aviv native, born Achinoam Nini, draws from a wide spectrum of influences. “As a child I was deeply influenced by Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen and many other fine songwriters. I listened to a lot of classic Israeli music in my parents’ home in New York and learned Yemenite traditional music from my grandmother. The rest came along life's winding paths.”
Noa lived in New York City from the ages of two to 17. It colored her perspective. “I was fortunate to grow up in such a wild, wonderful place as New York is. I was exposed to culture in all its myriad forms and swallowed it up. My weird Israeli/Yemenite/American hybrid was not all that extraordinary in the New York jungle, giving me the space I needed to grow accustomed to my up-side-down-tree identity and turn it into art.”
Also a superstar in Italy, she’s comfortable with numerous languages. “Though my parents spoke Hebrew at home, I quickly learned English and became fluent, and I could add, enamored of the English language. I read endless books as a child, and adored Shakespeare and E.E. Cummings alike. English to this day is my dominant tongue, my subconscious one, but Hebrew is a strong driving force, as well. Yemenite is somewhere deep under the surface, like a rumble.”
With her sweet, evocative voice, performing was always the career path for Noa. “I was born to do this. There were no other options.”
Over the years. Noa has collaborated with a galaxy of stars. Two stand out in her mind. “Pat Metheny is my number one. What an amazing musician and human being, unique, inspiring. I love Pat and feel proud such a man would have chosen to work with me. He produced my first album. He has been supportive over all these years and remains a warm, wonderful friend. Stevie Wonder also made a deep impression on me, his incredible talent, good energy and easy-going manner. With both these men, what stands out, alongside their momentous musical presence, is their extraordinary humility.”
A dominant presence on the Israeli entertainment front, Noa has long been a staunch advocate for peace. But she is careful about including politics in her songs.
“I do, but very subliminally, metaphorically, except in a song called ‘Shalom Shalom.’ I prefer to talk straight politics in other forums, or if on stage, through collaborations as the one I have with Palestinian singer Mira Awad.
In 2009, Noa and Awad, who will join her on stage at Oshman, sparked controversy by teaming, representing Israel for the Eurovision Song Contest entry “There Must Be Another Way.”
“There are a lot of frightened, cowardly, misinformed, prejudiced and closed-minded people out there,” Noa says. “But we don't let that stop us.”
Noa is viewed as a musical ambassador for Israel. “I didn't choose the role. Nobody pays me for it or even briefs me on anything, but yes. I am an ambassador. I represent all of us our here who believe ‘there must be another way.’”
She believes misconceptions abound regarding Israel. “The world is full of stereotypes and preconceptions. People seldom have the time to delve into anything, to try to see things in a more balanced, informed or even compassionate way. They tend to be judgmental and self-righteous. That's tough.”
Noa reports that Israel’s music scene is diverse and flourishing. “From singer-songwriters, to ethnic fusion and cutting edge electronics, there is music everywhere. Israeli jazz musicians and DJs are popular the world over, and many Arab-Jewish collaborations get a lot of attention, as well. I guess the difficult political situation, cultural diversity, religious and social dilemmas and rich history, all make for very fertile creative ground.”
Wife of a pediatrician, mother of three, Noa has a balancing act to perform. “It’s very difficult. But not impossible. I have a lot of help, my amazing husband and parents, great support group at work, plus a nanny. The kids go on tour with me a lot and when they don't, we Skype and miss each other and we all survive. Anyway, I have no choice. This bird has got to sing.”
For Noa, it’s a satisfying life. “I have been blessed with endless amazing moments in my career, great audiences, deep artistic resonance, wonderful encounters with fascinating people. I think I have touched a few hearts and opened a few minds, and in the process, my own heart and mind have become richer. I am so fortunate.”
Are there still unfulfilled goals? “Of course! Duets with Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon for example, a concert with the New York Philharmonic, you know, that kind of stuff.
“The greatest challenge is just staying there, doing it, loving it, believing in it all, keeping the fire. That's worth getting up in the morning for, even when the world is falling apart. As Frank Zappa says, ‘Music is the best.’”
For more on this artist, visit noasmusic.com.