Live Music: Noa (Achinoam Nini) in a UCLA Live Concert at Royce Hall

By Don Heckman

Israeli singer Noa breezed into town for a too-brief, ninety minute set at U.C.L.A.’s Royce Hall last night.  It should’ve been, could’ve been longer.  Noa, whose full name is Achinoam Nini, is a singer-songwriter with extraordinary skills.  Well-known on the international, world music circuit, she still hasn’t received the recognition in this country that her abilities deserve. Which is surprising, given the fact that she spent a decade and a half of her youth growing up in New York City (the Bronx, actually), from the age of 2 to 17.

Fully versed in American culture, she also has a rich affection for her Yemenite heritage as well as a strong connection with contemporary Israel, where she was born, and which has been her home for most of her adult life.

Noa

Although the repertoire Noa chose for the Royce hall appearance largely emphasized material drawn from her Yemenite and Israeli roots, the extraordinary quality of the performance was driven by her ability to transform the unfamiliarity of those songs beyond the specifics of language into the lyricism of emotion.

The same was true of the pieces written with her long time musical partner Gil Dor, who — along with pianist/bassist Gil Zohar – provided Noa’s sole accompaniment. Working together for more than twenty years, they write songs that possess the same sort of creative intimacy that was apparent in their onstage interaction.

Despite the relative brevity of the performance, there were many highlights.  The opening numbers – Noa’s “Waltz to the Road” and Noa and Dor’s “Mishaela” were delightful scene setters.  “Rachel Olah min Ha-Midbar,” a marriage of two songs, including words from the Scriptures, and the traditional Yemenite song, “Uri,” were delivered with compelling musical authenticity.

An impromptu and utterly spontaneous guitar solo from Dor testified to the breadth of his imagination.  Noa adeptly played various percussion instruments throughout the show, ranging from conga-like drums and hand drums to – on the traditional Yemen song – an oil can.  And a climactic number showcasing her as a drummer was a delightful display of high energy virtuosity.

The high spirited closing, “Shalom, Shalom,” underscored the pleasures of this eminently listenable evening.  In her recent Q & A for iRoM, Noa spoke of her desire to perform in venues such as Disney Hall.  One hopes that the folks in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Presentations office (are you listening, Laura Connelly?) will bring Noa and her gifted musical accomplices back for another, more extended offering of her memorable music.

To read the iRoM Question & Answer with Noa click HERE.

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