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Maya Avraham is a single-minded young woman. With two new songs getting plenty of airtime on all the popular Israeli radio stations, and a third about to be released, Avraham is well on her way to achieving her childhood dream. "I've always known I would be a professional singer someday," she says simply, "I have been singing ever since I can remember."
Now 27, and mom to two young kids, Avraham works hard at realizing her lifelong goal. "If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that no matter how talented you are, you've just got to put the footwork in, you've got to pay your dues."
In fact, Avraham is no stranger to the bright lights. Before striking out on her own she contributed backing vocals to some of Israel's top pop stars, including Sarit Hadad, and spent two years with the highly acclaimed world music act, The Idan Raichel Project, performing all over the world, including a sell-out show in a 4,000 capacity auditorium in Los Angeles.
But Avraham always stayed grounded and never lost sight of why she wanted to get on a stage in the first place. "It was wonderful seeing the hall in LA packed out like that. People came up to us after the show and some said it was the best show they'd ever been to - and that was in LA!"
For Avraham, singing has always more than just a means of making a living and garnering kudos. "Singing is a special love for me. I believe that if something comes from the heart other people will feel that."
Considering her varied cultural background, and early musical preferences, Avraham was an easy choice for the Raichel project, which embraces a wide spectrum of cultural vibes, from sacred Ethiopian music to rock, electronica and Israeli folk based material. "My parents are from Yemenite and Egyptian extract," she says. "I liked Moroccan music when I was small and, of course, I listened to all the pop stuff on the radio."
That's a pretty impressive genre stretch at such a young age. There can't be too many kids who dig Middle Eastern grooves as much as western-style pop. For Avraham, it's all just music. "I didn't really discern one from the other," Avraham recalls. "It wasn't really even a matter of thinking, consciously, about what was mine. I just let it all flow through me. I lapped it all up."
Avraham proved her nascent musical aspirations were no passing phase as she put together a teenage band called Rishon - named after her hometown of Rishon LeZion, south of Tel Aviv - and she and her pals honed their burgeoning talent with gigs around town. "That was a good time," Avraham recalls. "That, together with the stuff we used to sing at school, were good training for me."
After graduating from high school, the then 18-year-old climbed several notches up a steep learning curve when she joined the IDF, and was soon selected for an army band. "That was probably the best training ground of all," Avraham states. "We sang just about everything - from songs by [veteran Israeli songstress] Hava Alberstein to Arabic music, and lots in between." And it wasn't just the material that Avraham and her band mates performed that she focused on. "We traveled all over the country, to large bases and to remote outposts. I always felt we were bringing something more than just music to the soldiers. Even though we weren't combat soldiers I felt we had to do our bit by keeping up morale. It was always gratifying to see the soldiers' faces light up when we performed. I think we always left them feeling happier than they were when we came."
After completing two years of national service, Avraham kept up her now more polished musical endeavors in various bands, and as a backing vocalist at concerts and recording sessions, and never lost sight of her ultimate goal.
With her debut album due for completion any day one wonders whether the she might get the jitters as the finish line approaches. After all, it's one thing to back up the likes of Raichel and Hadad, and something entirely different to step out into the glare of the spotlight and head your own act. But, nothing could be further from the truth. "Moving up to the front of the stage feels perfectly natural for me," declares Avraham. "I am very comfortable on stage. I love to see the way people's eyes light up when I sing for them. It makes me feel good to know that what I am doing changes an audience's mood. I am very excited about the CD coming out, and I have a lot of expectations about where all this is leading to."
For now, Avraham is sticking close to her ethnic and artistic roots, although she doesn't rule out carving out a career outside Israel too. "I am happy working on my music in my own country, but I don't see any reason why I shouldn't at some stage, sing in English and try to reach other audiences abroad. If you want something badly enough, you just have to go for it. I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone for me so far."
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