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Speaking with 'Noa'

December 3, 2004

Achinoam Nini, known internationally as "Noa," is a human tornado in concert. Her luscious cape of curls flows around her as she whirls from song to almost any instrument (she's brilliant on the Darbukkah, a hand-held Arabic drum), blending her signature style of folk, jazz and Middle Eastern rhythms in Hebrew and in English.

Considered the hottest female pop artist in Israel, Nini plays to sellout crowds in her native country, the United States and worldwide -- not to mention repeated gigs at the Vatican.

She laughs during a phone interview from the Holy Land, that she, a Yemenite Jew from Israel, is considered a "Vatican favorite."

Born in Israel and raised in New York, Nini, 35, studied at the High School for the Performing Arts in New York City. She chose to return to Israel when she was 17 to serve in the army, singing for the soldiers in the Northern Command Ensemble. After her military service, Nini studied at the Rimon School of Music in Israel. It was there that she met Gil Dor, a highly accomplished guitarist, and began their 14-year musical partnership.


  • 8 p.m. Saturday
  • Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University Campus, 600 E. Emerson, Evanston
  • Tickets, $50
  • (847) 498-8218

  • Nini became a sensation in Israel, but the turning point in her career was when she and Dor collaborated with jazz guitarist Pat Metheny to release "Noa," her first international album, in 1994.

    Nini, married and mother of two, will be performing at Northwestern University on Saturday night.


    On the ultimate balancing act -- kids & career: I have a 3-year-old son, and I just gave birth to my second child three months ago. We named our daughter Enea, which means "seeing the world through her own eyes." It is a name inspired by the hope for peace -- to see the world not in any old way, but a better way.

    On performing in Chicago: I love Chicago. A very good friend of mine lives here. He's an extraordinary musician whom I met through Pat Metheny. As for the city, I'm in love with the Art Institute, and of course, I'll take my son to Navy Pier.

    On politics: I'm very political. Everyone in Israel knows exactly where I stand. I'm very outspoken. In fact, I sang at the peace rally where [the late prime minister of Israel] Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Ten minutes after I performed, he was shot dead. It was devastating.

    On her special relationship with the pope: I've met the pope several times, and sang for him. I'm what you'd call a "Vatican favorite" [laughs]. It's just so ironic, being Jewish and a Yemenite Israeli, I'm so far removed from Catholicism. I recorded my own version of "Ave Maria" during the Gulf War on my first international album, which was produced by Pat Metheny. I sang the song at the Vatican. The performance was televised worldwide. My appearance was considered very controversial in Israel. Many Israelis were proud that I was a Jewish singer from Israel singing in front of the pope. Others here were not as open-minded and accepting.

    On discussions with the Pope: He's a very gentle, intelligent man. He made it a point to tell me that he believes in reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity, and believes in peace. Look, I don't agree with everything he does, but he is one of the most important religious leaders in the world, and he's made very symbolic gestures to Israel. And when it comes to peace, the pope is right on the ball.

    A brush with Hollywood: I'm not prone to stage fright. I'm very comfortable singing in front of anybody. But there I was in Majorca, performing in the Cultural Arts Center, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were seated right in front of me, first row. It was horrible and wonderful. Catherine was the nicest person. She invited me and the whole band to a cocktail party after the show, and later e-mailed me how much she enjoyed my music. It was a thrilling experience.

    On her fantasy performance: I end all my concerts with a Paul Simon song. Hands down, it would be singing anything with Paul Simon.

    Lisa Frydman


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