Ninet Tayeb Was the Kelly Clarkson of Israel. At 19, the singer got her big break winning the debut season of Kokhav Nolad, a reality TV show similar to American Idol.
Three years later, the singer-songwriter released her first full-length album, Barefoot, which went platinum in less than 24 hours. In 2009, she won Best Israeli Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards and then won it again in 2012.
To date, she’s released five studio albums, including her most recent, Paper Parachute, in 2017. That same year she performed at NPR’s coveted Tiny Desk Concert series.
“As I watched one of the most famous entertainers in Israel today here at NPR, I flashed back to a 1976 concert I saw by a not-yet-famous Joan Jett,” All Songs Considered host Bob Bolien wrote of the concert. “Ninet has that same fierce and honest conviction, is walking that same path that Jett did and poised to find notoriety in this country, which she recently began to call home.”
Tayeb, now 35, also made a name for herself in acting. She was praised for her starring role in the film The Assassin Next Door in 2009. The next year she starred in an Israeli production of the stage musical Spring Awakening and earned a Best Actress nomination at the Israeli Theatre Awards. Most recently, she played the leading role in the 2018 Israeli TV series When Heroes Fly, currently streaming on Netflix.
Her Israeli fans — and there are many; she was a constant fixture in the Israeli press for years — lament the fact that she moved to L.A. three years ago. Now, she writes and produces English-language songs, and she’ll join The Zombies on tour this year as the opening act. She met the band members by chance five years ago, and they fell in love with her music.
“They’re so sweet,” said Tayeb, who’s very excited about the tour.
But before that starts she will play a significantly smaller gig right here in Philadelphia on Aug. 14 at The Locks at Sona in Manayunk. She’ll perform along with Aubrey Haddard, who was named vocalist of the year and singer-songwriter of the year at the Boston Music Awards last year. Tayeb’s Philadelphia concert will showcase tunes from her English-language albums, as well as some yet-to-be-released songs.
Touring the U.S. and singing for an audience of people who are less familiar with her doesn’t bother Tayeb.
“The less they know, the better because I want them to listen to the music and take whatever they want to take from it,” she said.
Tayeb grew up in a Jewish family in Kiryat Gat, Israel, a community where “everyone knew everyone.” Her mother was born in Morocco and her father in Tunisia. Tayeb remembers singing as early as age 8. Music was always a need rather than a want.
“It chose me, you know?” she said. “It was something that was in me ever since I remember myself. That driven power, it never let me go. Something that I had to do, that I have to do still, because I can’t do any other thing.”
Tayeb doesn’t like to label her music, but she said it’s an amalgam of ballad rock, alternative rock and a smidgen of ’90s rock thrown in for good measure. “It’s Berlin meets New York meets Tel Aviv,” with a Middle Eastern vibe on the guitar riffs in several tracks.
She’s similarly reticent about her lyrics, which she describes as a letter from herself to herself.
“I tend to write a lot about what’s going on in your inner self. Things like, it’s very personal between you and yourself. Your soul, your heart, I’m writing about when I feel pain and sadness. It’s really hard for me to write when I’m happy. So I don’t know, I’m still trying to find out.”
One of the songs on the Manayunk set list will likely be Tayeb’s recently released cover of Joni Mitchell’s song “Woodstock,” which Tayeb recorded in honor of the cultural milestone’s 50th anniversary. Tayeb hoped to share her interpretation onstage at Woodstock 50, but the concert has been canceled. Her music video of the song is on YouTube, though.
Tayeb knows she’s lucky to make a living off her music, which not many people can do. She’s hoping to get even more music lovers engaged with her songs when she travels across the U.S.
“There are the people coming to a show to hang out and drink and mingling and all that stuff, and then there are the people coming who love music, and that’s that audience that I believe — that I want to believe — that I’m attracting.”
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