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Singing Together for Pleasure and Peace

One of Israel’s most popular vocal artists, Noa appeared at New York’s 92nd Street Y in April as part of an eight-city U.S. tour — a homecoming of sorts for the singer known in Israel by her full name, Achinoam Nini. Born in 1969 to a Yemenite Israeli family, Noa lived in New York from two until 17. She returned to her native Israel to join the entertainment unit of the Israeli army, met her long-time music partner and collaborator Gil Dor, and skyrocketed into popularity in Israel and Europe.

Noa’s first album, “Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor Live” appeared in 1991. Her other albums include a recording with the Israel Philharmonic. She writes that “Now,” her 2002 album, was written “under the influence of my pregnancy and birth [of my first child].” In 2009 came “Noa & Mira Awad — There Must Be Another Way.” Mira Awad, an Israeli Palestinian, and Noa have been collaborating for about 10 years; it’s an artistic meeting, but also a political one, as they strive to harness the power of music in the name of peace. The two appeared together at Eurovision 2009, stirring controversy among Jews and Israelis, Palestinians and Muslims. Awad was the first Palestinian to represent Israel at the annual music contest, and the first Arab ever to perform at Eurovision.

Noa’s eclecticism extends beyond her musical styles, which range from folk to pop to Yemenite to jazz; she sings in English, Hebrew and Arabic and plays several instruments. She kept the evening lively with guitar, fast-paced drumming and a lyrical piano solo. She also utilized what is perhaps the world’s most accessible and basic instrument, her body, in a rhythmic chestbone-and-hand percussive arrangement. She covered a variety of old favorites, including a new jazz arrangement of “Mishaela,” as well as some newer material from her Yemenite-inflected album “Genes and Jeans” (2008).

The freshest part of the evening began about an hour in. While Noa and her accompanists took a break, Mira Awad took the stage for three solo songs in Arabic, including “Bahlawan” (Acrobat), which describes the constant balancing act of a woman in an Arab society and a Palestinian in a Jewish society. Then she and Noa per-formed three songs together: their Eurovision entry, “There Must Be Another Way,” “Will You Dance With Me” and a cover of “We Can Work it Out” — all lighthearted, on the surface. Of course all three have deeper meanings performed by this duo. Perhaps in testament to their mission, both Awad performing solo and the two performing together received a wildly enthusiastic reception at a venue that tends to attract a fairly conservative audience.

Noa was also applauded for her almost ceaselessly energetic performance. Noa has a two-and-a-half month old daughter (her third child), who is traveling with her and nursing through the night. At a keyboard solo at the end of the show, Noa lost track of herself, and rather charmingly shared the source of her exhaustion. She related her 4 AM conversations with her daughter (“Ga,” from baby, deep sigh from Ima), and persevered at the piano until she got her own composition right. Oh, and she looked fabulous, too. This U.S. tour is finished, but more information about Noa is at http://www.noasmusic.com.