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Wednesday, April 28,2010

Graceful uplift

Israeli singer Noa brings message of peace

by Lawrence Cosentino
It’s amazing how lightly some people carry heavy things.

When Israeli singer-songwriter Noa dances barefoot on stage, flashes her hot Mediterranean smile and jumps behind the congas to trade whacks with the band, it seems as if she hasn’t a care in the world.


But she’s all care.


During a phone interview last week, Noa paced her seaside Tel Aviv home with a sweet new burden in her arms: her 2-month-old daughter, Yum, which means “sea” in Hebrew.


She called parenthood “a beautiful separation from self.”


“You’re one small part of a long and beautiful chain,” she said. “You’re giving your body, your milk, your time, your patience, your energy to another human being.”


Far from wearing her out, she said, it’s made her want to work harder.


“It’s made me much more committed to — it’s horribly clich' — but trying to change the world.”


At 39, Noa, or Achinoam Nini, is not wellknown in the United States, but she’s been a huge star in Israel,
Europe and much of the Middle East for 20 years, and the go-to gal when
somebody like Bob Geldof, Sting, Bill Clinton or the pope is having a
jubilee or putting on a save-the-world concert.


She has performed with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Andrea Bocelli, but she’ll Israeli singer Noa brings bring a partner with special significance,  message of peace Palestinian-Israeli singer Miri Awad, to the Wharton Center Wednesday.


It sometimes seems as if Israelis and Palestinians will never find common ground,  but Noa and Awad are vigorously promoting the idea. They intensified a decade-long, on-and-off collaboration when their signature song, “There Must Be Another Way,” was broadcast to tens of millions of listeners as Israel’s entry in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest.


Noa doesn’t have illusions about art’s ability to promote peace. Art, she said, is only part of a system — “political, judicial, diplomatic, financial” — that’s in bad shape.


But music can prepare the ground, she said.


“Your mind and your heart are wide open, and it’s much easier for you to reach out to whoever is out there — especially to whoever is different,” Noa said.


When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Noa’s music and humanitarian work looks for common ground in a reality nobody can deny. Circle of Life, an organization of parents who have lost children to the conflict, is among
Noa’s most cherished humanitarian projects.



“These are parents who,
rather than
cultivating
hatred and
vengeance, cultivate
friendship and
coexistence,” she said.


The lyrics to “There
Must Be Another
Way” put it this way:
“When I cry, I cry for
both of us. My pain has
no name.”



“We can mourn
together,” Noa said. “If
we can do that, we can
also
overcome our deepest
fears and barriers.”

But Noa’s upbeat concerts with Awad aren’t manifestoes. The words “Israel,” “Palestine,” “Arab” and “Jew” never appear in her songs.

“Our messages are universal,” she said. “I don’t write political songs. I believe in stripping things down to the deeper human values.”


Among her guiding lights in this respect are singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and acerbic genius Leonard Cohen.


“I never really liked the music of my generation, to tell you the truth,” she said. “I always liked the music of the ‘60s. I’m sorry I wasn’t born 20 years earlier.”


Noa was born in Israel, but when she was 4,
her father got a job as a professor and took the family to Brooklyn,
where she lived until she was 17. Her grandparents came from Yemen.


For Noa, it was like growing up in two worlds.


“Outside
it was the Bronx, but inside it was like Yemen or Israel, with pillows
on the floor and my mother cooking and father singing these beautiful
songs in Hebrew and Yemeni,” she said.


Traditional musical forms of Israel and Yemen often work their way into Noa’s multi-lingual, folk-pop sound.


At 11, her life took a decisive turn when her uncle took her to see Cohen at Carnegie Hall.


“There
were clouds of marijuana everywhere,” she said. “I saw this amazing
man, all by himself on guitar, and I said, ‘Ha! That I can relate to.’”


Noa is always singing for world peace at a heavy venue like the White
House, the Vatican or the Colosseum, but she bears that weight lightly,
too, with the easy intimacy of a folk singer.


“I’m blessed with a total lack of stage fright,” she said. “I feel very natural, and just close my eyes and sing.”


Noa with Mira Awad


7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 5
Wharton Center Cobb Great Hall $35 (800) WHARTON wwwwhartoncenter.com

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