Arab-Israeli Vocalist Blends Genres, Cultures


At first, Mira Awad didn’t want to be thought of as a bridge between cultures. The Palestinian-Israeli singer and songwriter grew up in an Arab village in the Galilee, studied music in Tel Aviv and has written and performed with musicians of many backgrounds. She felt the weight of being an Arab in Israel who moved between cultures.

“Who wants to be a bridge? Bridges are stepped on. I just want to make music,” she remembers thinking.

But eventually, after turning 30, she embraced the label. “That’s how I present myself, how I express myself,” the singer, who turns 38 in a few days, says.

Awad is back in New York City this week, to perform her acoustic fusion music — blending folk, rock and traditional Middle East music — at the Metropolitan Room. Her guests will include David Broza: she did two songs with him for his latest recording, and they’ll be performing them on stage for the first time.

Her music reflects her outlook on life: all-embracing, collaborative, open and creative, with emotions that are rarely hidden. She sings mostly in Arabic and English, with some Hebrew. “I sing in every language I can get my tongue to do.”

On stage, she often wears clothing by Israeli designer Kedem Sasson. Between songs, she talks. As she explains, “The show is never too calculated. Things happen, every moment is different. … I try to express the present moment.”

In a YouTube video, she sings Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want,” and sounds a bit like the iconic American singer-songwriter, whom Awad cites as an inspiration.

Awad’s mother was born in Bulgaria, her father in a village in the Galilee. Both Christians, they met in Bulgaria, when her father was studying medicine. He wanted to come back to his village, Rameh, “on a mission to help, to give back.” Awad left Rameh after high school to continue her studies, first in Haifa and then at Tel Aviv’s Rimon School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.

She grew up in a home that welcomed people from all backgrounds. Her father was left wing, a leader in the village, in favor of coexistence and accepting the State of Israel. She shares those views and is sometimes criticized for them.

“When people say, ‘Why do you call yourself a Palestinian Israeli,” I say, “Do you want to live in 1948 forever?”

“I have to live my life now. I’m an Israeli, I studied in an Israeli university. I don’t want to throw Israel into the sea. I don’t have hatred.”

She has paid a price for her views, having had concerts canceled in both Arab and Jewish communities.

In 2009, she wrote and performed the hit song “There Must Be Another Way” with singer Achinoam Nini. The two friends represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow, where the song was a finalist.

Awad, who has recorded two albums and is at work on another, has also acted in films and at Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theatre. She stars in the popular Israeli television show “Arab Labor” and was a semifinalist on Israel’s version of “Dancing with the Stars.” In Tel Aviv, where she lives, she frequently appears at Café Bialik, and likes the idea of singing the words of the Palestinian national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, in a place named for the Israeli national poet.

She says she enjoys being in New York City, where she loves hearing all the musicians on the streets and in the subways. Often, she buys their CDs, and their music, too, may become part of the fusion.

“Arabic Fusion” is at the Metropolitan Room, June 6-8 at 7 p.m., 34 W. 22nd St. For reservations, call (212) 206 0440 or, $20 music charge plus two-drink minimum.