The Israeli singer-songwriter and peace activist performs all over the world, often with her Israeli-Arab duet partner, Mira Awad.
Love and peace aren’t just slogans from the faded 1960s. They are values that keep Israeli concert and recording artist Ahinoam Nini stoked and singing on stages across the world.
“Love is a great force that will move you, big time,” says the singer-songwriter and peace activist, known outside of Israel simply as Noa. No wonder she uses this word so often, and with such feeling.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1969, her parents moved the family to New York when she was a toddler. Growing up, she felt increasingly drawn to explore the land of her birth, and flew to Israel the summer she was 16. She never went back to the Bronx.
“Israel was something very free and open, with very passionate people,” she says. “I loved the weather. I loved that there were much fewer restrictions. I fell in love with an Israeli guy. And I wanted to be part of this thing.”
Over nearly 20 years, she has become very much “part of this thing,” performing for heads of state and showing the face of Israel to loyal fans in several countries.
Speaking with ISRAEL21c during her May concert tour in China with her Israeli-Arab duet partner Mira Awad, Noa marvels that the Chinese “love Israel more than any other people I have ever met.”
Her daily blog entries chronicle her experiences in the Far East. “The message of peace Mira and I convey is agreeable to them, of course, but I must say, it is the music itself that moves them to tears, not the politics.”
A goodwill ambassador
With a million and a half albums sold, Noa isn’t a chart-topping blockbuster, and she does not churn out CDs on a regular basis — though she’s had a particularly prolific few years, releasing “Genes and Jeans” in 2008, “There Must Be Another Way” in 2009 and two discs this year: “Noapolis,” a sampling of Neapolitan songs; and “Eretz, Shir: The Israeli Songbook,” accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.
“I’m more interested in quality and originality than popularity,” she says. “If you notice, I do not make albums at whirlwind pace, to say the least. I take my time, and will never perform a song I am not completely in love with.”
An official United Nations goodwill ambassador, Noa is scheduled to perform June 9 and 11 during the Israel Festival, backed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Then, it’s on to Spain for another concert tour in July.
Love is not a fleeting passion for Noa, who is still married to the medical student she fell for on that long-ago summer trip. Dr. Asher Barak, a respected pediatric pulmonologist, is content to give his famous wife the limelight. But she credits him — and her parents, who returned to Israel a decade after their daughter did — with her ability to juggle motherhood and career.
“I get a lot of help and support from my wonderful husband and my parents, who are just amazing,” she says. “I have made many compromises, but it’s worth it. As a song I once wrote goes, ‘Life is just a balancing act,’ and I am doing my best. I consider myself very, very lucky to have such a beautiful family.”
The couple’s three children are 10, seven and just over a year old. Last spring, Noa went on a multi-city “best of” American tour with her two-month-old baby girl in tow. “I take my kids on tour often, and when I don’t I suffer quite a lot,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
Singing for peace
Noa has frequently taken the stage with peaceful intentions. In 1995, she sang at the Tel Aviv peace rally where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and entertained Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat and the King of Norway at a 1999 Oslo ceremony commemorating the pact signed there.
In 2002, Noa was on the bill at the “Time for Life: A Tribute for Peace” concert at the Rome Coliseum, and recorded a cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” with Awad for her album “Now.” Two years later, she sang at “We Are the Future,” a fundraising concert produced by Quincy Jones and hosted by the mayor of Rome; and in Bono and Bob Geldof’s 2005 “Live 8” concert.
In 2009, she and Awad sang their Hebrew-Arabic-English peace ballad, “There Must be Another Way,” representing Israel at Eurovision in Moscow, and last November she and Awad performed at the closing concert of the Science for Peace event at the Bocconi University of Milan.
Not surprisingly, one of her favorite quotations is “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” attributed to British statesman Edmund Burke.
“I believe in that with all my heart,” says Noa. “And I believe in peace. Beyond entertaining, I supply food for thought. I try to inspire and evoke dialogue, contemplation and emotion.”
She feels that music can provide common ground. “It is there that we see how useless all the hatred and violence are — and what beautiful doors we can open with communication and compassion.”