Haaretz just featured a profile of Mira Awad, an Israeli Arab Christian who appears in a new hit TV comedy called Arab Labor. Awad began as a professionally trained musician and recorded demos which no Israeli record company wanted to touch with a 10 foot pole because they are petrified of Arab music. Not necessarily petrified in an overtly racist way. Just petrified of its supposed ‘alienness’ from Israeli pop culture and of their inability to market it to the public:
In guitarist Amos Hadani’s small studio in downtown Tel Aviv she is completing the recording of her debut album, which will comprise songs whose lyrics and music she has written herself, mostly in Arabic.
The long road she has traveled until arriving at the final stages of the album began during her days as a student at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon. “Eight years ago I already had demos ready and I tried to interest several people in them. But it didn’t really work out, and at a certain stage I got tired of trying and abandoned music for a number of years,” she recalls. “Arabic is apparently a language that still arouses fear and reservations in Israel. The fact is that no one jumped into the cold water, no one took a risk with me. Most of the reactions about the album had nothing to with the music or the production, and this began to affect me. My career in theater began to gain momentum and I said to myself, ‘Thank God, at least there is another place where I can express my creativity.'”
But as sometimes happens, the mass market may be far more ready to embrace “the other” than the doyennes of pop taste recognize. Visit her MySpace site and listen to Bahlawan and tell me she’s not ready for Israeli prime time. Azini is a song with more rock-pop “chops” recorded with the enormously popular Idan Raichel Project. Awad also recorded a duet with Noa of the Beatles We Can Work It Out that’s making the rounds of YouTube. It’s cute and makes a political statement but doesn’t showcase either of them to best effect. Far more compelling musically are these videos of more “hard core” Arab pop performances featured at MySpace video. As far as I’m concerned Awad has all her bases covered and if an Israeli record company can’t take a risk on her then they can’t take a risk on anything.
One warning: this is a woman who speaks her mind. Hearing Hatikvah doesn’t make her heart beat pit-a-pat. It makes her sad as one might expect coming from an Israeli Arab:
Mira Anuar-Awad was born in an Arab village in the northern part of Israel and has a full Israeli citizenship. She will sing Zman (Time) in the Kdam-Eurovision, combining Hebrew and Arabic. “There will probably be some people thinking I am not eligible to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest because I am not Jewish, and I do feel, to some extent, that this country does not represent my true being” says Anuar-Awad. “When the Israeli national anthem is played I am usually sad and embarrassed cause it doesn’t stand for anyone of my national symbols” Mira adds. These statements by the star of the musical My Fair Lady have caused quite a commotion in Israel, just 5 days before the contest.
In certain Israeli nationalist circles, they can’t understand why Israeli Arabs don’t just shut up and get down on their knees and thank Jews for putting up with their endless whining and carping about discrimination and inequality.