Peace Through Music


Romain Rolland, a Nobel laureate for literature, famously said, “We must struggle with a pessimism of the intellect and an optimism of the will.” The gifted Arab Israeli singer-actress Mira Awad puts it a little differently.

“Like the title of Emil Habibi’s play, I would say I am an ‘opsimist’ [a combination of optimist and pessimist], meaning I do see that the reality is very complicated, and that for the time being we are light years away from a solution. But I have to keep some kind of a faith in some kind of a better tomorrow, otherwise life would really be unbearable,” Awad wrote in an e-mail interview last week.

Her friend and frequent musical Achinoam Nini, better known to audiences as Noa, gives a similarly guarded answer.

“On the long term? Yes. Short term? It looks like it will get worse before it gets better,” the popular Israeli singer wrote last week. “But that's no reason not to work tirelessly to mold our reality into what we believe it should be.”

Their musical partnership has born considerable fruit, including Israeli’s entry in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. Their latest joint effort, “Two Voices, One Vision,” is a concert for the Abraham Fund, which promotes projects that nurture coexistence and equality among Israeli Jews and Arabs. It’s a perfect showcase for their blend of various Middle-Eastern musical traditions and smooth jazz.

Noa outlines the program simply.

“Our concert consists of three sections: we each do a solo part with our respective musicians and our own original repertoire, and then we come on together for a few joint pieces,” she wrote. “These songs were either written by Mira or [me] or by both of us together. We also choose to cover well-known songs, like “We Can Work It Out,” our first duet. Our joint material will invariably carry the strongest political/humanistic message.”

Inevitably, one must ask how much change a couple of singers can bring about by merely performing together.

Their answers reflect the same guarded optimism they expressed before.

“Obviously a musical collaboration like ours is not going to change the world in a day, but it does have the power to inspire, to open new doors in people’s hearts and heads, to challenge what they may have held as true, and present an alternative to a grim reality,” Noa wrote. “I believe these things have great importance. They are stones thrown in the lake, their circles expand and join other circles to create waves, tidal waves, and ultimately, change.”

Awad is blunt, writing, “Well, I don’t think a song can change the world if that’s the question, but I do think that it throws an idea into the air, and then it's up to people to catch that idea or not.”

But they will keep on singing together. At the very least, Noa wrote, she had gotten more from her performing with Mira than from most of her other musical collaborations.

“A great collaboration should be based on mutual respect, musical resonance and a common agenda. Personal affinity helps a lot too. I have never had so much of all of the above as with Mira.”

Noa and Mira Awad will be performing on Thursday, March 15 at Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center (Broadway and 60th St.). The event will benefit the Abraham Fund.