Aviv Noiman: On The Way to Jerusalem

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“Jerusalem isn’t a place you can reach,” said Aviv Noiman, “maybe you can… but the movement towards it… when I arrive in Jerusalem I’ll make a very happy album, I really want to get there, to write an album that  is happy but has depth. True happiness, I really want to reach that place.”

The young singer/songwriter from Beer Sheva may not be in Jerusalem yet, but he is on his way. A strong voice emerges from the poetic landscape of Aviv Noiman’s debut album David, confronting hardships and heartbreak head-on with eyes and heart open, ready to take on the mighty oceans, talking to the ancients with tender beauty and rock ‘n roll.

Aviv Noiman/Photo: Hadar Golan
Aviv Noiman/Photo: Hadar Golan

Aviv, whose name means spring in Hebrew, has been around in his young (30 years) life: he’s worked with youth in a boarding school and in the Anthroposophic school system, taught music in a psychiatric hospital, trained horses, spent several years living “in the British Empire” (India and the UK), and was seriously involved with photography before turning to music. A poet with a guitar, his songs take us on an intense journey through images and feelings, singing people and places, metaphoric, surreal, and oh, so real, into the mind. A few days before his launch concert at The Zone (HaEzor) in Tel Aviv on March 16th, the red-haired musician sat down with me in Neve Tzedek to talk about music, the Bible, Leonard Cohen, and Lord of the Rings.

Aviv Noiman – In His Own Words

“I have a hard time with structure, I’m just beginning to learn the freedom that can be found in structure, in taking a upon yourself a set of rules, you might even call it mitzvot (commandments). That limitation opens a place in which you can let go and be free… you are not always drifting in infinite space. It’s a little like the piano, I read somewhere that because there are a limited number of keys, one can create an infinite number of melodies, but if the piano were infinite, you would be lost within it…”

Photo: Aviv Noiman
Photo: Aviv Noiman

“I don’t know how to read notes, I miss out on a lot because of that. I’m just starting to enter the theoretical world of music, on the other hand there is something unmediated [about my relationship to music]… They put a guitar in my hand when I was thirteen. My mother took me to a friend, I wonder who he is, I owe that man a lot… he showed me how to read chords and I’ve taken a few lessons here and there. I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a musician, I just wanted a good life. Like when John Lennon’s teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he said ‘happy.’ She told him he didn’t understand the assignment, and he said ‘I think you don’t understand life.’ It may sound childish,  but I think there is a grain of truth that children know, and I try to stay with that feeling.”

“I am not at all involved with photography anymore – just Instagram.  I write songs in images, I try to show a kind of picture. When I was in India I realized that by taking pictures I am looking at my trip instead of experiencing it, and at that point, the guitar, the piano, music replaced photography for me, because it’s different with the music, music focuses my life.”

“Writing a song is a miracle (nes), I mean it makes you happy like a miracle: Wow! Ezeh kef! (What fun) I wrote a song! It will never happen again…”

“It’s very hard to sit down and write a song, it does happen sometimes that I decide – now I’m going to write but it usually comes from a different place. Interesting songs come after an interesting life, or an inner experience. To see it,  to look at ordinary life with a spark in your eyes. The songs on the album were written over the course of a few years, but they gather in most of my life experience. The album is autobiographical, even if I write about things that did not happen to me.”

Photo: Aviv Noiman
Photo: Aviv Noiman

The Lord of the Rings is fantasy but it describes something real, things that are not fantastic, they are true. Anyone can connect to the feeling of having to take on responsibility, a burden he has to carry, something that is unfair … thinking – why me? and I think that everyone would want to be able to overcome that  that feeling and not say this belongs to someone else…inside everyone there is a desire to be the person who says OK, I’m the one who will take the responsibility.”

“I used to write in English. I had lived in the British empire for a long time – India, the UK – I began to think and dream in English, I had an English girlfriend who did not speak Hebrew and I began speaking to her dog in English… when you start speaking to the dog in English it means that English is in your head, because you might just as well have spoken to him in Hebrew and he would have understood. Then I went to a performance of Rona Kenan, with Nissim Kalderon and she sang Cassius (composed to a poem by Yona Wollach), both the Hebrew and English version of the song, and that was the first time I understood the importance of a mother tongue. My mother’s tongue is English (Aviv’s mother made Aliyah from England on her own at age 18) but my mother tongue is Hebrew I grew up on Hebrew. That is when I began writing in Hebrew.”

“I really love the Hebrew language. Hamekorot – the sources (Biblical texts), it’s our past. If you want to write to something greater than yourself you need to go to a place of origin that is not you, and there is a lot of wisdom there.”

aviv noiman album cover

“I call the album David, it means something to people, not necessarily the same thing it means to me. The name gives the album an inherent meaning that I couldn’t put into it on my own, I can only do it if I stand on the shoulders of culture, language and tradition.”

“David is a king and musician and a redhead and my father’s name is David, and I just really like the name it felt right to give the album the name of a person. On the album cover, it’s a photo of me, but you can’t see my face, you don’t know it’s me, and on the back cover you can see that I am looking at the walls of Jerusalem. It’s a person going somewhere, because the journey is the essence, not the destination.”

“I gave the album a name of a place I want to reach, David is a model for me to emulate. When I am confused I read … lots of things… The Road by Cormac McCarthy or listen to Nirvana or read the Bible, sometimes the Bible helps me get my head in order. The Bible is  a model to emulate, just like Leonard Cohen.”

“I was at his concert in Israel. There were tens of thousands of people there, perhaps 80,000 people, I was at the farthest end, just opposite him, but on the other side of the stadium. He made you feel as if you were sitting on the stage, you feel that he is here, you didn’t feel that he was just a pin point in the distance. He is also someone I am trying to learn from, he is like David for me.”

“David changes. He is confused in the beginning, or rather he begins very sure of himself. When you first encounter him he says OK what should we do with this Philistine, Goliath – and he’s the one who knows and he goes to it with crazy courage and he makes many mistakes along the way…to take the wife of a friend he sends him off to war… what I like, is that he’s not an unrealistic character… he gets into these situations, and gets out of them. His heart breaks, but he lives, and he is not afraid. He is the Rock ‘N Roll of the Bible.”

Aviv Noiman will perform at The Zone (13 Harechev Street, Tel Aviv) on March 16th. Doors open at 21:00, tickets are 40 NIS in advance/50 NIS at the door, and may be ordered online here. Link to the facebook event page here.