Music Of the Heart

COURTESY OF THE 92ND STREET Y

By Nathan Burstein

Published April 21, 2010, issue of April 30, 2010.
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In happier times, singers Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad would have been an easy sell: a pair of Israelis, one Jewish and one Arab, singing a heartfelt peace anthem called “There Must Be Another Way.” When the duo performed the song at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest — the annual pop competition voted on by TV viewers across Europe — Awad became the first Arab to represent Israel, joining Nini on lyrics in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

But for reasons political or musical, TV audiences rejected the song, which ranked 16th at the end of the competition. Back in the Middle East, the response was even harsher, with Arab and Jewish critics dismissing the duo as a PR ploy, one intended to gloss over Israel’s 2009 conflict with Hamas.

Such accusations, however, overlooked a key fact: the very genuine friendship between the pair, who will perform on April 27 at New York City’s 92nd Street Y as part of a maiden tour of the United States. The duo first collaborated nearly a decade ago, on a 2001 album by Nini, a veteran Israeli star who performs under the name Noa. They eventually partnered again for a 2009 album.

Despite the lackluster results at Eurovision, the duo expressed satisfaction with the experience, saying that winning was not their aim. The impact of the performance, they say, reverberated through thousands of e-mails in support of their work. “There were many written by people from Arab countries who were moved to write to us and say that what we were doing also represented them,” Nini said.

Awad, a Tel Aviv resident from a Christian background, said she understood some of her critics’ complaints, but she still argued in favor of artistic partnerships like hers.

“Arabs in Israel are an issue that is not solved yet,” Awad said. “There are many struggles that have to be achieved, but where I differ from [critics] are in the actions that should be taken. I do not believe that staying in my own territory… and disconnecting with the other people in my own country is the way to go. For me, these collaborations are the way.”


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