One of Israel’s most popular singer-songwriters is taking time from an American tour to perform a benefit concert in Kennesaw on Valentine’s Day.
Achinoam Nini, known internationally as Noa, is waiving her usual fee for the concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, whose students include Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians working together in southeastern Israel.
“It’s an amazing place,” Noa, an Arava board member, said in a phone interview in January, adding that she loves the place and the idea of a multicultural institute focused on learning about and protecting the desert. “I’ve seen what they’re doing, and I’m incredibly impressed.”
The institute models the kind of peace and cooperation she envisions for Israel and the Middle East despite what she acknowledges as a terrible situation between Israelis and Palestinians now amid repeated small-scale but often deadly terrorist attacks.
“We need a great Middle East collaboration between moderates to fight off the extremists across international borders,” Noa said, calling for a united effort among Jews, Muslims and Christians, with or without the United States and Europe, to ensure that extremists and opponents of peace “are not hijacking our agenda and our future.”
She said Arava is typical of grass-roots efforts to improve education, the economy and the environment to build hope for the future.
Noa, a Yemenite-American-Israeli who was born in Tel Aviv but grew up in New York before returning at age 17, said she makes it her business to expose the work of the Arava Institute wherever she goes, but she embodies outreach in other ways. She represented Israel with Israeli-Palestinian singer Mira Awad (featured in David Broza’s “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem” documentary at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival) in the 2009 Eurovision contest, in which she sang in Hebrew, Arabic and English (just half of the languages in which she sings).
She made history in the 1990s when she became the first Jewish Israeli singer to perform at the Vatican, thanks to the lyrics she wrote to go with Bach’s “Ave Maria” on an album produced by Pat Matheny, who discovered her. The artistic director of a Vatican event was a big Pat Matheny fan, so he listened to Noa’s album and liked her “Ave Maria” enough to invite her to the show.
Pope John Paul II became a big fan, Noa said, and she performed for him eight or nine times. She also sang at the Vatican for Benedict XVI and returned in July to perform for Francis.
“Not bad for a Jewish girl from the Bronx,” Noa said, especially a self-taught musician.
She sees herself as carrying on the spirit of singer-songwriters such as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Leonard Cohen. While her collaborator for a quarter-century, Gil Dor, the yin to her yang, is thorough, intricate and meticulous, “I’m more volcanic in my approach.”
But they complement each other, she said, with common interests and characteristics and a shared desire never to let their careers detract from their separate family lives.
Dor and Noa will take the stage together in Kennesaw for an acoustic show with a guitar and various percussion instruments touching on a wide range of musical styles, she said. “It’s just good music. That’s what we try to make.”
Where: Morgan Hall, Bailey Performance Center, Kennesaw State University, 488 Prillaman Way, Kennesaw
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14
Tickets: $40 to $65 in advance, $50 to $75 at the door, or free with a donation of at least $100 to the Arava Institute; arava.org/join-us/atlanta