FOR Israeli vocalist and songwriter Achinoam Nini, known popularly as Noa, being on stage at a peace rally with the late Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv moments before Israel’s prime minister was assassinated was an emotional touchstone that redirected her career and changed her life.
The singer recalls that day, November 4, 1995, almost 22 years ago. “It was a terrible, traumatic night. What started as an event resplendent with hope and positive energy turned into a horrible, bloody disaster. I think that was a defining moment for me,” she told The AJN.
“I realised it was no longer acceptable to simply entertain,” she reflected. “If I had the key to many people’s hearts and minds, I also had a responsibility to put something of value there, and I couldn’t think, especially after the murder, of a message more valuable than peace. I have been doing that, stubbornly, ever since.”
Noa, whose albums have sold millions, will be entertaining in Australia later this month, brought here to appear in concert at Temple Beth Israel (TBI) in Melbourne and at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre in Sydney. She will perform with her longtime musical director, guitarist Gil Dor.
“I never perform without him. We’re a team, we’ve been working together for 27 years. He’s an amazing musician … we complement each other in a very special way I think, and have developed a style of our own over the years, which really defines us.”
As her career developed, Noa gained a reputation for addressing thorny political and social issues in her music.
“I’ve been advocating dialogue, coexistence and peace, and fighting against racism in all its ugly manifestations,” she said.
“I’ve been critical of the Israeli government when I’ve felt its actions have endangered the very heart of Israeli society.”
Critics of her politics have pointed to her professional relationship with well-known Palestinian singer-songwriter Nabil Salameh, who has appeared with her in Israeli concerts.
“Our relationship began with a great deal of antagonism, mostly from his side, and turned quickly to a great love story,” she confessed.
Noa co-wrote There Must Be Another Way with Arab-Israeli singer Mira Awad, which won the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest.
“Mira and I remain the closest of friends. Both of us agree that there is no solution but the two-state solution, that must include arrangements for the refugees and the settlers … neither side will disappear, and God should be removed from the equation.”
Aside from the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Noa has written and sung about women’s rights, contributing, supporting and performing for organisations such as Together from Darkness to Light, which helps sexual abuse victims rebuild their lives, and various shelters for abused women.
She is also on the board of the New Israel Fund (NIF) and in Australia will take part in a series of conversation events organised by NIF.
Noa said her Yemenite heritage has profoundly shaped her artistry.
“The sound of my voice, my propensity for modal improvisation and my drum playing and dancing – all of these are deeply rooted in my Yemenite background, of which I am extremely proud. I always perform at least one traditional Yemenite song in my concerts around the world,” she said.
Three 1960s balladeers – Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell – are another major influence sculpting her musical profile.
“They are my heroes,” stated Noa. “The poetry, the beauty, the depth, the politics too! That was a period of grace in music … These three giants left their mark on generations … and a huge one on my heart.”
Noa performs in concert in Melbourne on November 15 at TBI, St Kilda. Bookings: www.tbi.org.au/noa and will speak at a NIF function on November 18 at the David Williamson Theatre, Prahran. Enquiries: www.nif.org.au
In Sydney on November 20 Noa performs in concert at Camelot Lounge, Marrickville at 8pm. Bookings: www.stickytickets.com.au
Noa is in conversation and performs some songs on November 21 at the Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Bondi Beach. Bookings: www.trybooking.com/315063
REPORT by Peter Kohn