SA invited me to hear Noa, an Israeli singer she introduced me to. I wasn't totally convinced I like her enough to be worth seeing live, but I wanted the excuse to spend the evening with SA, so I agreed.
The concert was at Södra Teatern, an old, deliciously baroque theatre which is now used for world music and non-mainstream comedy. But it's quite a small theatre, so it was surprisingly intimate, with just a few hundred people crammed quite close together on traditional red velvet seats. Of course, I turned out to know half the audience, because there's a significant contingent of the Jewish community here who will faithfully turn out to anything with an Israeli artist out of some strange sense of patriotism.
After the first few songs, I was ready to be disappointed. Singing in English, Noa comes across like a fairly generic singer-songwriter, and not a particularly good one. She was over-amplified for such a small venue, and even so tended to shout into the microphone a bit, and she was very stiff and awkward when she even moved at all, and the lyrics didn't really rise above the usual sentimental clichés. Just as I was beginning to regret coming, she did a couple of verses (not whole songs, I think she misjudged quite how overwhelmingly Jewish and Israeli expat her audience was going to be) in Hebrew. I couldn't quite believe how much better she was singing in Hebrew, thinking I was just giving her more benefit because of the novelty and my own sentimental attachment to the language. But she really was a totally different performer, singing in a middle-eastern style which she does much better than her western poppy chick-with-guitar thing. She even moved better, much more at ease in her body.
Over the course of the second half of the show, she just kept getting better and better. She used a lot of Temani (Yemenite) material, some traditional, some modern fusion stuff in the best possible sense, combining Yemenite rhythms, drumming and ululating vocals with a very contemporary, poppy framework and some really original material. For one song, she used her own body as a drum, slapping her chest and using her lungs for resonance, at the same time as singing, which was really startling. In another, she did a kind of reverse strip tease, starting out in rags that were only decent by virtue of a skater style body stocking, and covering herself up with a veil and headdress and eventually going into a Yemenite wedding dance. And really a very good song about trying to stay true to her roots while fitting in to modern society and a pair of too-tight jeans.
By the end of the show, she was going nuts, bouncing all over the stage, with loud, fast, exuberant songs accompanied by intense drumming and getting the audience clapping and swaying and trying to teach us some of her lyrics so we could join in with the chorus. She combined bits of Middle Eastern, African and distinctly American musical styles (even with allusions to hiphop and gospel music), reflecting her own heritage of Yemenite immigrants to Israel, growing up mostly in New York, and then moving back to Israel as an adult. Some in English, some in Hebrew, and some in a language that might have been Temani Hebrew, or might have been Arabic, or anyway some vaguely semitic sounding language that I don't speak.
The encores were great too: an extra super bouncy manic version קרן אור (Ray of light), which is the song that grabbed my attention when I was checking her out on SA's recommendation, which was really pleasing as an addition to a presentation of material almost entirely from her most recent album. Then she calmed things down with an unadulterated Temani song, accompanied with a rhythm beaten out on empty oil cans, because traditionally Temani Jews didn't use musical instruments out of sorrow at the destruction of the Temple. And finally something very soppy about love and peace, but by then, I and the whole audience were so hyped up we didn't mind the over-earnestness.
She really carried the audience, holding together that strange mixture of middle aged Jews who must give money to all Israeli artists regardless of whether they're actually interested in the material, with young, trendy Swedish world music fans. Absolutely adorable in the way she kept thanking her band (she slipped in a thank you to Obama for getting elected!), and telling everybody how important love and peace are, soppy as hell but you couldn't hold it against someone so earnest and joyful. And she did a few bits of serious but not lecturing explanation of some aspects of her incredibly mixed heritage, both her deep, passionate connection to her cultural traditions and her clear-eyed understanding that life in the modern secular world is vastly superior to tribal traditions based in poverty and austerity and forcing nine-year-old girls into arranged marriages.
I am very glad indeed that I let myself be persuaded into attending, because she's really special live. Now I need to get to sleep, because I am going to Germany straight from work tomorrow, and haven't packed or anything. I'm very, very excited about spending a weekend doing Progressive community building stuff in Berlin. Of all places; the conference looks exciting in its own right, but with that factor I just have to be there.