FOLLOW YOUR HEART
(talk starts with verse and chorus form the song “follow your heart”…..)
I was 16 years old when I decided to leave home alone and move from NY to Israel, for love.
I come from a Jewish Yemenite family, born in Israel but raised in the US from age 2.
When I was 15, I was on a summer hiking trip in Israel, when I met this amazing young man, and fell totally in love with him. From that moment, all I could think about was how to plan my return, how to convince my parents, how to be with him. This was crazy and totally devoid of logic. I was already really into music, and living in the most amazing city in the world for a potentially budding artist, I knew going back to Israel would mean mandatory military service, an identity crisis (I already had a pretty complex identity), a total meltdown of my comfort zone and yet, my heart wouldn’t let go of me. “Achinoam, Achinoam” it said, day and night. “You know this is what you’ve gotta do, so do it!”
And I did.
Achinoam, as my heart just told you, is the beautiful name my parents gave me. It means, freely translated, sister of peace. But later in life, as I embarked on an international musical career, and understanding Achinoam was just too difficult for most people to pronounce, i took on the name “NOA”…three letters at the heart of Achinoam, with roots in the Bible.
Noa was the first feminist in Jewish history, But for me, the name is more significant as an acronym: N-O-A : Not Only Achinom.
I understood, I guess, from a very young age that together works better. That giving up some of your ME to become a WE is glorious. My heart dances whenever I connect and resonate, and Asher…that man I fell in love with (which is sitting right here)….was just the beginning.
After my military service…I went to study at the Rimon School of music in Ramat Ha Sharon…
My idea was to form a band…I never wanted to be a Star Star in classic fashion, I wanted a team, a family! I wanted to be Sting in the Police. (btw years later I did a whole tour in France with sting! But that’s another story :) So I set out to find my mates. Then I walked into class on the first day, and there was this teacher, and he was talking, and I was mesmerized, by his wisdom, creativity, energy, passion, he was a total WOW. I mustered courage to ask him to listen to the songs I was writing at the time, fortunately he found my song writing worth encouraging and offered me a student teacher collaboration in a festival the school was taking part in. I was so thrilled!!
At the time I was already being wooed by all kinds of producers, managers, etc, that were offering to invest a lot of money in my career, pushing me to take the so called “fast tkt” to stardom, (I would later learn that no such thing exists) , to forget this collaboration with a musician 17 years my elder, to go for younger, hipper producers, forget my original songwriting, to do some remixed covers, take songs from professional pop song writers, change my hair and the way I dress, pose for the camera, etc etc…
It seemed tempting, who doesn’t want to be a star?? But there was my heart, nagging…naaa. It said, this is not right Achinoam. I don’t care how successful a mundane pop song could be , I want to create something new! I want to work with a person who can encourage creativity, nurture it, who can join me on this quest for depth and beauty, who is relentless and passionate and as much a perfectionist as I am, who believes in the ME WE idea, the team, the family…so I said no to all those guys with their big promises (my heart is going! Yeah! go girl)….and went with the teacher.
I got much more than I bargained for. A partner, a mentor, an amazing musician, a gold mine of music ,mind and spirit. I left school that year, but stayed in the school of life to this day, with this great man to my right: my musical collaborator and guitar master GIL DOR :)
Then things started moving really quickly. Gil introduced me to Pat Metheny, one of the world’s most amazing musicians, an incredible Jazz guitarist and composer, and one of my heroes! I met Pat in New York soon after, and left him a recording gil and I had made earlier that year .
He called me later that evening, and said one of the songs he heard on that disc was so beautiful he wished he had written it himself! I almost died. He asked: how can I help you? So I took a breath and said: produce an album for me.
And he did!
So Gil and I went to NY, Pat brought his incredible musicians, we started making the album, it was amazing.
After the recording, pat had to go on tour, so we had a few months before we mixed the album.
Gil and I came back to Israel, and started working on a project for the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, based on the beautiful poetry or Rachel and Leah Goldberg. It was a totally artistic project, so you can imagine our surprise when one of the songs became a huge hit!
A recurring theme with us, all of our “hits” were accidental…they just happened as we were busy following our hearts…
So we were performing in Israel, in bigger and bigger halls, and travelling across the Atlantic to finish the album with Pat, we got signed by Geffen Records, I was getting really popular and working really hard. And in the middle of all this…I got married!
Yes yes, your head is saying: what? Why! All these guys falling at your feet, travelling, exciting places, be free! Why weigh yourself down??
But my heart was saying: naaa….that guy, the one from the hiking trip… he’s your man. He’s you partner for the marathon…unite!
And I did.
And my heart was dancing….
And that’s when I started learning to juggle. A three ball juggle…music, matrimony, and ten years later, motherhood, once, twice three times..three children, three thousand concerts….three, is a magic number..:)
By the way, that’s another reason I never wanted to sing any song I didn’t love, or do anything I didn’t feel strongly about…how could I justify leaving my loved ones for fluff? For bogus? What for??
But for lighting my little flashlight into another hidden corner of the human soul, for creating something, for making the world a better place, for beholding a dance of hearts as music connects people on a higher level…ah! For that, I was willing to sacrifice…
And I did…
Carrying my kids around the world, nursing them on planes and trains, on many sleepless nights with the help of my incredible family and friends…
The juggling was intense. but it was about to get totally crazy….as several monumental events unfolded..
On the album NOA, that Pat produced, we had recorded an original version of the Bach- Gunod Ave Maria. I wrote original lyrics, an ecumenical, almost iconoclastic prayer for peace….and gil arranged it to sound almost like a folk song. this song fell into the hands of a man in Italy who was producing an event in the Vatican…so one day we got a call, inviting us to perform for an audience of 150,000 people in St Peter’s square, for Pope John Paul the 2. The first Israelis ever to do so. We were shocked, and thrilled!
There were voices in Israel calling me to decline this invitation, Jews that were still angry at the church for what it had done to our people over the centuries…but my heart was saying, if this pope believes in breaking the walls between religions, in collaboration, in reaching out, who am I to say no? on the contrary, this is exactly where I want to be!
We were subsequently invited 8 times to perform at the Vatican for John Paul the second, and later, for Pope Benedict, and just recently, for the wonderful Pope Francis.
And my heart? Not only dancing, exploding! What an honor, to be able to contribute to a shift in consciousness through music, to an expansion of vision, to a broadening of perspective! How thrilling, how right it feels.
And so another ball was thrown into my juggling act, the fourth…..not only music , matrimony and motherhood, but meaning…a mission….a message….much greater than myself.
and that was just the beginning.
The following year, we were invited to perform in another huge event….a peace rally being organize in Tel Aviv, to support Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres, Nobel peace laureates, as they signed the Oslo Accords…a new horizon for Israel and Palestine! What joy!
When the mayor of Tel Aviv called me to ask if I would sing, it took me three milliseconds to say YES! He was thrilled as it appeared he’d gotten quite a few “No”s already, which surprised me, but shouldn’t have. I was later to learn; any political affiliation is almost Taboo for popular artists. But I wasn’t thinking in those terms, I was so honored to be able to celebrate peace!
The event was the most wonderful and most horrible evenings of my life. What began as a joyous celebration of the future, ended in enormous tragedy when Yitchak Rabin was murdered by Yigal Amir, as he descended the very same staircase I myself had walked down just a few minutes earlier.
I was devastated. that very night, I decided that if this great man could pay with his life for peace, for humanity, for values, for the future of our children, I too would pay a price….i would act, I would speak out, I would carry this torch forward stubbornly, fearlessly.
my heart , understanding the ramifications of this decision… bowed its head, and nodded in agreement.
After that, one thing lead to another very quickly, all mixed, blurred… speaking out, refusing to perform in the occupied territories, supporting a two state solution, threats to my life, concerts cancelled, performing at the white house, speaking and singing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, becoming a Global Leader of Tomorrow, meeting and befriending Quincy Jones and performing in many of his events, in NY, Rome, Switzerland, being Knighted by the president of Italy, becoming good will ambassador for the UN….working with Nicola Piovanni and Robberto Benigni, collaborating with Arab artists , like Khaled, Nabil Salameh, Rim Banna and more, participating in demonstrations, writing blogs, refusing to receive prizes alongside racist artists, more hate mail and threats, boycotts, and all the time writing songs, putting my hands in the mud of the soul and flying high above it all like a bird, and back again….. touring, wonderful concert halls, long roads, children, juggling, juggling while running, on my knees, in my sleep, in my dreams…. praying to the God of music, and believing, with all my heart, that it all comes down to “love your brother as you love yourself…..”
In 2009 I was approached by the Israeli Eurovision committee to represent Israel in the Eurovision. I said Yes, but I had conditions: I wanted to share the spotlight with Mira Awad, a great Arab Israeli artist, and we would write the song ourselves, in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
And so it was. We were attacked from all sides, those who hate, those who are suspicious and afraid, those who do not believe, those who have given up.
But we also reached CNN, the NY Times, El Jazeera, BBC Iran and millions of young people around the world with an incredible message that they could relate to , that they believed in, and they gave us their support! Every one of the hundreds of letters I received at the time, from iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, all over the world …every one brought tears to my eyes….they are treasures I will pass on to my children….
Here’s part of the song as I wrote it originally in English:
(we perform part of “there must be another way”)
I’ve followed my heart. It’s nagging, dancing and prodding me on has brought me to the most challenging and most spectacular places of my life. And I say to you, in a crazy world, changing so fast, mind boggling technology, communication, FOMO, pressure, uncertainty, and almost preternatural competitiveness…..though it seems crazy, it may not be such a bad idea….
To follow your heart.
because, in the worst case….you’re left with your heart! (If you’ve done something meaningful for yourself and others, you are a success! Yippee..
And in the best case.. you’re left with your heart. What’s all the success, glory, fame and fortune in the world worth without it??
And what is your heart anyway?
It’s more than a blood pumping organ on a valentine’s day card…
Here’s how I see it:
H- head, humanity, home, humility, hearing….
E- essence, ear, empathy, extension…
R- resonance, responsibility, the road….
T- two, togetherness, time….and tomorrow….
Dear friends, thank you for listening.
We’d like to leave you with a song.
(we perform UNI…)
The end :)