Noa: Letters to Bach

Bach to the Future

Listening Post 210. No composer has motivated more artists to adapt his work than Johann Sebastian Bach. Remixing began when eighteenth-century orchestras deployed pianos in pieces JBS composed for clavichord and harpsichord; it continues today with jazz, folk and blues iterations, among others. But arguably no one has channeled Bach so audaciously—or lyrically—as the Israeli singer-songwriter Noa (Achinoam Nini). She describes Letters to Bach, her eleventh studio album, as a “correspondence across the generations,” with lyrics evoking timely and timeless challenges for a dozen of the composer’s works. Balancing her breathtaking voice in a panorama of vocal styles in English and Hebrew, she is anchored by the masterful and minimalist accompaniment of partner-arranger-guitarist Gil Dor. The track closest to the Baroque is All of the Angels, taken from Cantata 140, the sublime lyrics inspired by Noa’s visit to a woman with ALS who decided to end her life and faced the final days with courage and serenity (video 1). A playful remake of the Badinerie (from Suite No. 2 in B minor), No, Baby is her reverie of taking her hero out on the town (video 2); and she turns Invention #1 (אינבנציה מספר אחת) into a patter song worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan (video 3). Oh, Mama Dear (from Invention #13) is sheer teenagerie, sparked by the artist’s 14-year-old daughter (video 4). An outspoken activist for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Noa reflects on perceptions of “the other” in Look at Me—“across the border, beyond the wall, the way you would observe yourself” (video 5). From Carnegie Hall to the Vatican to Eurovision, Noa has played to mass audiences, but notwithstanding their universal appeal her Letters also have the intimacy of a concert for one. The mystery is whether she takes us back to Bach or brings him forward to us. Either way, the magic is in the trip. (More Management/Naïve Music)

Letters to Bach
Noa (Achinoam Nini): All lyrics, all vocals
Gil Dor: Production, arrangements, all guitars, electric bass, editing
Maya Belsitzman: Cello
Quincy Jones: Executive producer

 

All of the Angels
Music: Cantata 140, Johann Sebastian Bach/Lyrics: Noa (Achinoam Nini)

If all of the angels sang together, surely they’d say: “We need you!”
If all of the angels stood together they would embrace and greet you
Some say, everything has always been this same, but they wouldn’t if they had a chance to meet you
Now daylight is fading, and I will be waiting
For you to send a sign from where the wind has taken every song, every smile, your spirit has awakened, sunlight birds singing out Halelluya
Halleluya

When all of the angels wondered how your curious eyes had found them
Then all of the angels understood you’d wrapped your arms around them
Through strong winds and thunder, they’d spread wings and wonder
They’d try tenderly to rally in your soul, but your spirit and conviction would astound them

When all of the angels wondered how your curious eyes had found them
Then of the angels understood you’d wrapped your arms around them
They’d try tenderly to rally in your soul, but your courage and conviction would astound them
And I won’t be crying, for you dear are flying
Into a place of light, a place of freedom
You’ve escaped the dark bitter night, you went believing in the sunlight, birds singing out Halleluya
Halleluya

For what is a life but shifting sky, the loneliest cry, a story
For what is a life, but love made gently, or in blaze of glory
The bliss of creation, the realization
That you wonderful as you could ever be, on your way to being free you find elation
Your arms reaching like the branches of a tree, to begin the journey to your destination
Now daylight is fading, and I will be waiting
For you to send a sign from where the wind has taken every song, every smile your spirit has awakened, sunlight birds singing out Halelluya
Halleluya

And I won’t be crying
For you, wonderful as you could ever be, you are waiting to be free and you are trying
To gather the angels ‘round your soul and send them to those left hollow
My dear, I am fighting back a single tear, though I said I wouldn’t cry, she will not follow
It’s hard to break free of, the memory of thee love
The loneliness, the black, the urge to whisper how I wish we had you back, beloved sister
I will sing, Halleluya,

But all of the angels know you now, your stubbornness so beguiling
And fear melts into a puddle at your feet, for your spirit and your eyes are always smiling
Forever the giver
You flow like a river
Into a place of light, a place of freedom you’ve escaped the dark bitter night, you went believing in the sunlight, birds singing out Halleluya
Halleluya!

 

No, Baby
Music: The Badinerie, Johann Sebastian Bach/Lyrics: Noa (Achinoam Nini)


No baby, no baby, no baby, no!
Don’t you ever say ya gonna go ahead and leave me
No baby no baby, don’t ever go!
When I’m with you I’m elated/
All the rest is overrated
Every word you say and every moment of the day
The Scooby Doo, the Shooby Dooba/Gets me shinin’ like a tuba
Gets me sailin’ to Aruba every single day

So baby, so baby, so baby, so
Whaddaya say we take a little stroll around the city?
Go baby go baby go baby go
Sip and shake and hit the shoppin’/
Then go dancing till we drop, and
Whirl around and wiggle/I can always make you giggle
When the two of us are movin’/
All the universe is groovin’
And the rhythm gets to soothin’ all our cares away!

Hey baby, hey baby, you know it’s true
You and me gotta both stay together
Stay baby, stay baby, do what you do,
People say you’re crazy/Disconnected maybe hazy
But they haven’t got a notion/Of the power in your motion
And the simmer in your potion/Takes my breath away!

Don’t walk out that door, I’m sayin’
/Life’s a song and we are playin’
Ding Dibidibong, Dibidibidong
You can change it, but it’s never really wrong/Short and sweet, with a beat, with a bong
Make it short, make it long/But tell me that you’re stayin’


Hey baby, hey baby, you know it’s true
You and me gotta both stay together
Stay baby, stay baby, do what you do,
People say you’re crazy/Disconnected maybe hazy
But they haven’t got a notion/Of the power in your motion
And the simmer in your potion/Takes my breath away!

You are all my eyes are seeing
/Now that we’re “Badinerie-ing”
Ding Dibidibong, Dibidibidong/Bach was smiling when he wrote this little song
So I’ll smile and again I will say, every single day
Will you stay? Aw, baby are you’re stayin’…?

 

Invention #1/אינבנציה מספר אחת
Music: Johann Sebastian Bach/Hebrew lyrics and English translation: Noa (Achinoam Nini)

This is an invention by Johan Sebastian Bach/It’s the first he wrote, and so as not to forget
He jotted it down then walked away, almost threw it in the trash/Like something obvious and trivial, and the ink had not yet dried
But fortunately, this little piece was saved/Short, simple, evasive, clever, and oh so beautiful

Congratulations, Sebastian Bach!/Your creation is so lovely
Here is a soft, melodic phrase/Like a conversation with an angel
Halleluya, Halleluya, I’ve been redeemed/I hardly noticed how dizzy I’ve become under the influence of this composition,

In fact, I’ve totally lost my breath/This is a bit high for me to sing
But I’ll do it happily :)
Here, the rhythm gets quite fast/And soon, the scale will climb way up
It’s that daunting crescendo/Oh god, here it comes

Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!
The invention has finally come to an end
Thank you, say I, to strangers and friends :)

 

Oh, Mama Dear (Enea’s song)
Music: Invention #13, Johann Sebastian Bach/Lyrics: Noa (Achinoam Nini)

Oh. mama dear/Do not expect me to comply
I’m in the middle of a “story!”
My body’s doing things I can’t understand/
My mind is banging like a big bright brass band
As for my mouth, well/
As we can both tell
It’s making Bolt look slow!

Oh, mama dear
Don’t ask me to calm down, I can’t/
I try to answer you politely then I rant
Believe me this is nothing I can control/And besides the both of us are playing our role
You are trying to save me from myself/
It’s for my own health
And then we both yell/
Until we sound like sirens rushing to a fire!

Oh, mama dear
There is so much that you can’t see/
I’m caught into a loop and everything is me
I’m taught to think that I can tear the world apart/And every selfie is a stunning work of art!

Oh, mama dear/It’s very clear we’re lost inside
A world that tells us that/
The “other” is a thing we need to buy
That global warming is a joke at best, or a blatant lie
And plastic islands floating in the sea/
Are far away so why
Why worry?

Oh, mama dear
Just look at me/
I’m smarter than you’ll ever be
!
Got a heart of gold/
I’m brave and bold
I’ll save the world like mommy’s girl/C’mon now mama
Let’s just hold each other very tight/And say good night

(Good night, mama…)

 

Look at Me
Music: Largo from Concerto #5 for Piano in F minor, Johann Sebastian Bach/Lyrics: Noa (Achinoam Nini)


Look at me, across the border/Beyond the wall
Look at me/
The way you would observe yourself
In life’s broken mirror.

No, I refuse to bow
To those who say/
The world is changing now
And as it changes there’s no way/
To see the other
Like a child lost in the loneliest night/
Those who’d sentence us to fear and fight

Here is a woman in labor
Her child will soon be born/
But who knows if he’ll find favor
In the eyes of those who rule and rampage/Who dominate the earth and skies
With words of hate/
They close the gates of hope


Come, we cannot let them blind us/
For every woman in the world
Knows what it’s like/
When they cripple and bind us
Forever searching and waiting and anticipating/We ask ourselves, when?
We ask again and again/
When will we finally find freedom?

Look
There is a crack and it’s growing/There is a light and it’s glowing
Through the sorrow/
Beyond the tears, beyond tomorrow
There must be something more that we can do

I can see you/Your beauty shows
Beyond your weakness and pain, it glows
The morning is near, now/
As the stars disappear
We’ll shatter that wall/
We’ll watch it fall
Together, sister, we can/
Come, give me your hand

 

 


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