2 May 2010
Noa's concert in Blue Bell (Philladelphia- USA)
Two for the Pride of One
Noa and Mira lend their voices to a note of Mideast peace and harmony
April 22, 2010 - Michael Elkin, Arts & Entertainment Editor
Give peace a chance? How about giving it a musical backbeat?
Chances are that Noa and Mira Awad are aware of and in sync with the possibilities.
The two -- vocalist Noa, known to millions of Israelis as Achinoam Nini; and Arab-Israeli singer Awad -- awake each day to the steely soundtracks of combative and combustible backgrounds that is the political conflict in their homeland.
Surely, both attest to and harmonize with each other, there must be another way.
They have gone on the record with that very notion: "There Must Be Another Way" was their Israeli entry as a vocal duo performing in last year's Eurovision Song Contest, with Awad awarded the post as first Arab representing the land of milk and honey.
Sweet was their venture; bittersweet the outcome as the two finished a not-so-sweet 16th in the contest.
But after nearly 10 years as a twosome -- and decades as artists on their own -- only one number really means anything to them: Their No. 1 priority of a vision of peace through vocals.
They will lend their voice to that cause at Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell, performing at a benefit concert there on Sunday, May 2 www.tbibluebell.org.
Both have benefited career-wise from their dueling-banjoes banter and bonhomie, even while taking hits and hollers -- not exactly shout-outs -- from detractors who wonder why they don't pay more attention to "West Side Story" for their West Bank story and follow the lyrics to "Stick to Your Own Kind."
That's not the kind of life they've been pursuing, both note.
And Noa, like her colleague, wants a piece of the peace that will one day come, she contends.
Upbeat -- or just marching to a different beat?
"Music can make a difference," she notes, "and it always has, throughout history. But," she emphasizes, "it cannot work magic, and it cannot work alone. Only if all sections of society -- the political, financial, diplomatic and artistic -- work together, can we hope to see any sort of change occur."
To everything, change -- and it was quite a change in Mideast music tableaux to have witnessed these two forge one picture of one voice, one vision at last year's Eurovision competition.
We are the world -- but did fragmented Europe see it that way?
"I think," replies Noa, whose worldwide fame has spread to Philadelphia, notably with her star-spangled performance at Israel's 50th birthday gala celebrated at the Wachovia Center, "we did not place higher in Eurovision because our song was not a classic Eurovision song -- meaning, it was not a lighthearted, catchy, entertaining pop song."
No snap, crackle, pop of a bubble-gum gimmick? "We never had that intention," she says. "We were out to make waves, to say something, and to do it 'our way.' "
Awad weighs in: "I think the Eurovision brought us closer together; the intensity of the preparations for the contest, plus the trouble we faced before it made us realize more than ever that we are strong in our beliefs and committed to our message. And also, the time we spent together made us get to know each other more than ever. As for the result in the contest, the criteria for this kind of pop contest is a mystery to me."
Mideast mysteries are common ground for Israelis and Arabs. But walking in each other's sandals, does the sand feel differently? Are their friends surprised by the deepening friendship between the two? And are American Jews more surprised than their Middle Eastern friends?
No way, says Noa: "I don't hang out with the kinds of people who would be surprised by this kind of friendship. As for the American Jews ... well, I guess we'll find out on tour, won't we?"
Without question, Awad agrees: "People who would be surprised that I'm friends with Noa wouldn't be my friends to begin with."
And yet ... Mira recently canceled an appearance with Noa at London's Israel Independence Day celebration, citing reports of threats of violence and intimidation against her. Noa went on alone.
'Close Friends, Different Circumstances'
Peace and harmony, but hardly the same: Sabra Noa is of Yemenite heritage; Awad, born in the Galilee region, has an Arab Christian for a father and a Christian mom, with roots in Bulgaria.
Far apart but oh-so-close, more dunes than don'ts: "We remain very close friends, though the different circumstances of our life -- I have three children [including a 2-month-old] and live about 30 minutes from Tel Aviv; Mira is single and lives in the center of Tel Aviv -- make social meetings more difficult," says Noa, at age 40, six years younger than her cohort.
Co-existence is easy in their case, although: "We meet while rehearsing, recording and touring, and love being together."
Together and apart, the two have won countless awards and honors, and count big-name rock stars among their fave fans. Indeed, Noa -- who lived in the United States from age 2 to 17 -- has opened for such acts as Sheryl Crow, Carlos Santana and George Benson.
Rock of ages while rocking the vote; play it again ... politically: "Every citizen must take personal responsibility, utilizing whatever tools she or he have at their disposal, even if it is 'only' a vote, to reach a common goal: world peace," claims Noa.
Another country heard from ... well, actually the same. "Does song really have a role to play in" promoting world peace? chimes in Awad. "A song cannot bring peace to the Middle East, and we cannot single-handedly solve the dispute in the region, but I think it opens a window to the possibility of dialogue, and that's important enough."
After all, there are enough smashed windows and broken promises to appease naysayers on both sides. Do they dial up the anger in their own dialogue when bad things happen to good people? When Arab-Israeli tensions arise in the news, what kind of conversations do the two vocalists have with each other?
Says Noa: "We are both deeply depressed by the situation, and committed to presenting the alternative."
"I think we find a bit of comfort in each other, especially in crazy days [when] we remind ourselves that there are some sane people out there who want to reach out to the other side, and find solutions in order to stop the killing," contends Awad.
Is it not ironic then, that an early collaboration between the two, in 2002, was "We Can Work It Out"?
But will it be alone again ... naturally?
"We have already known each other and worked together for almost 10 years," says Noa of their long-term status. "I imagine we will continue to collaborate occasionally whenever the opportunity presents itself, while at the same time, each developing her own direction."
Directions point stateside as the two are scheduled for a series of concerts, including the big event at Tiferet Bet Israel. Want to bet they don't have big visions for their travels?
Hop aboard the peace train: "I once put together a personal peace plan, called 'Peace by Piece,' " reveals Noa of a project that projects a better world for both peoples, given that "each side must recognize the rights of the other to life, freedom, independence, identity, the right to flourish, the right to a peaceful existence."
One is not the loneliest number after all, says her opposite/simpatico number: Mideast leaders "can learn to put the value of life as No. 1 in their list of priorities, like we do. I think that kind of thinking can change the Middle East politics altogether."
And well sung.
Singing for peace
April 27, 2010|By Emily Tartanella INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Noa: It's very collaborative. There Must Be Another Way has some of Mira's solo songs, some of my solo songs. But it also has all of our collaborations. Writing them was a really intense and interesting and creative process, because it was written, in every sense of the word, under fire. We were in my home studio, and it was like a bunker.
Q: What language do you normally sing in when you perform together?
Noa: Together we sing in Hebrew and Arabic and English. And that's what you'll hear onstage in Philadelphia.
Q: In Philadelphia, you'll play at a synagogue. Was that a deliberate choice of venue?
Noa: Well, our core audience is the Israeli audience. But we're hoping that the audience will be as mixed as possible. Throughout Europe, we've played in endless churches, and I don't really see a difference between a church and a synagogue. There's something nice about being in a spiritual space, even though both of us are not religious in any way. We're practicing the religion of love, music, compassion. That's my religion, at least, and I think Mira's too.
Q: The two of you aren't religious?
Mira: Not at all.
Q: How successful do you feel you've been in getting your message out?
Noa: I think that we've been successful. Of course there could always be more. As Mira often says, our country has been at war basically for the past 60 years. We've never really known peace. You might think that I'm batty, but my dream is to perform with Mira in the signing of the peace agreement that we're all waiting for. Who knows - if we're not both in wheelchairs by then.
Q: What is the typical response you get, not just in Israel but worldwide, to your performances?
Mira: From what I've seen, it's always been a great reaction. Even people who are very skeptical before the show, suddenly afterward there's this feeling of hope. Even the skeptics get that kind of a boost of energy. I'm always amazed at the people who demonstrate outside the concert hall. If only they could come in and listen! We're just trying to find this path to each other, in order to have a glimpse of the future, or any future. Because nowadays we're kind of heading toward -
Mira: Doomsday. That's right. So we're doing whatever we can. We're two artists, we're not politicians, we're not prime ministers. We're doing what is in our power, and our power is music. Our power is being onstage, and taking our points of view, our ideas and our ideology to people from around the world. That's what we're doing, and that's all we can do.
Contact staff writer Emily Tartanella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Noa & Mira
6:30 p.m. Sunday at Tiferet Bet Israel, 1920 W. Skippack Pike, Blue Bell. Tickets: $54 reserved; $36 general; $18 children, students, seniors. Information: tbibluebell.org, 610-275-8797.
Israeli-Palestinian duo takes stage to promote coexistence through song
By Thomas Celona
Arab-Israeli folk artist Mira Awad (L) will join with Jewish-Israeli singing sensation Noa (R) in a unique musical collaboration at Tiferet Bet Israel on Sunday, May 2. Noa & Mira Awad at Tiferet Bet Israel, 1920 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell Sunday, May 2, 6:30 p.m. Tickets: $40, adults; $20, students, seniors & children under 13. Info: 610-275-8797 or www.tbibluebell.org
Sometimes music is more than just music.
Sometimes lyrics are more a cry for peace than they are words set to a rhythm. Sometimes a duet is more a step in a global movement than it is two artists working together.
Such is the case with the song ìThere Must Be Another Way,î as the two musicians sing these words in unison: ìAnd when I cry, I cry for both of us / My pain has no name / And when I cry, I cry / To the merciless sky and say / There must be another way.î
The two artists are Noa, a Jewish-Israeli, and Mira Awad, an Arab-Israeli.
When these two sing together, music becomes more than just music.
The two internationally known singer-songwriters will take their Middle Eastern folk rhythms and their movement for peace in the Middle East to Blue Bell, as they perform a concert at Tiferet Bet Israel May 2 at 6:30 p.m.
While not a household name in America, Noa is just about everywhere else in the world she goes. Over the past 15 years, she has released a number of albums and become Israelís leading international concert and recording artist.
Born in Israel, Noa lived in Brooklyn from age 2 to 17 before returning to Israel. Add to that her grandparentsí Yemeni background, and Noaís music is an international mix of sound.
ìYemeni, Hebrew and English are the three cultures and languages that are prominent in my life, and I mix the three into my songs,î Noa said in a recent phone interview from her home in Israel.
While her background is vastly different, Noaís sound is not too far from traditional American folk music.
ìIím a singer-songwriter,î she said. ìI was very inspired by Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, and that can definitely be heard in my songs. I write poetry, really, and I put it to music.î
Noa described Miraís sound in similar terms, saying they both claim Mitchell as a major influence.
The two have been working together musically for nine years now.
ìI was looking to work with a Palestinian-Israeli artist,î Noa said. ìI found Mira just by chance. She was doing a TV interview promoting a musical she was performing in. I was very, very impressed by her. I was impressed by her personality. I called her, and we had great chemistry right from the beginning.î
The two began performing at festivals in Europe and recorded a number of songs together over the next eight years.
ìIt was exciting and fun,î Noa said. ìThen there came Eurovision.î
It was then that the two ó and the entire world ó discovered combining their voices together translates into something more than just music.
Since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest has searched for the best song each year from among submissions by member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. Each country selects an artist and song to represent the nation, and viewers select their favorite. Over the decades, it has become a huge international event, bringing in audiences of well over 100 million each year.
ìI was actually offered by the Israeli committee to represent Israel,î Noa said, noting she received the offer multiple times early in her career. However, she turned it down each time, based on Eurovisionís reputation as a pop music competition. ìI donít consider myself a pop artist.î
Noa didnít want Eurovision to define who she was as an artist. But once she had clearly established her distinct sound throughout the world, she saw the competition as an opportunity to make a defining statement.
ìI had an interest in using the stage and to promote a message of coexistence,î Noa said. ìI suggested to Mira to represent Israel.î
The two decided to be Israelís representatives in the 2009 competition, bringing a message of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians to a global audience. Then violence erupted once again.
Israeli forces invaded the Gaza strip in January 2009 in what many in the Arab world have termed the Gaza Massacre. With tensions on both sides heightened, the thought of Noa and Mira representing Israel met opposition.
ìIt was a very big, very controversial situation,î Noa said. ìFrom both sides of the fence, there was enormous opposition for us going to represent Israel. We decided to plow on despite all this commotion.î
At the competition in May 2009, the two sang ìThere Must Be Another Wayî and placed 12th.
ìThereís no wrong time to sing for peace, and maybe the most important time is during a war ó not that the war hasnít been going on for 60 years,î Noa said. ìWe feel we have the duty and responsibility to raise the flag of coexistence. That was the message of our song. Itís impossible to think that the only possibility is more and more bloodshed.î
And Noa and Miraís performance at Eurovision did indeed spread their message around the world.
ìWe got a lot of attention,î Noa said. ìWe got a lot of letters from Arab viewers and listeners. People said they were moved to tears by what weíd done. We were very excited, felt very accomplished.î
Since then, the two recorded an album together and have toured, but their concert in Blue Bell will be their first one together in the United States.
ìItís very exciting for me to introduce Mira to the American audience I have,î Noa said. ìI think the audience will not only be able to enjoy the music we write and perform together but to feel they are part of a movement. We consider ourselves part of a movement of people that think there must be another way.î
Blending the sounds of the guitar, flute, piano and percussion, Noa and Mira will bring their unique sound to the concert ó one attendees will be sure to enjoy even if many of the songs arenít in English.
ìI think in our case you donít have to know the music in order to enjoy it,î Noa said. ìWe try to give people a musical, intellectual, sometimes emotional experience that we feel is very special.î
Because this concert will be one of those times when music is more than just music.