When Steve Jobs calls, you answer. This was certainly the case for songstress, Yael Naim, whose folk ditty “New Soul” was handpicked by Jobs to soundtrack a landmark commercial for Apple’s first generation MacBook Air in 2007. As the company demonstrated the laptop’s sleek and simple design, Naim’s lyrics took the spotlight. “I’m a new soul / I came to this strange world / Hoping I could learn a bit ’bout how to give and take,” she sang over a bright and bubbling melody, before breaking into a catchy chorus of la la las. The world was hooked.
Naim went from virtually unknown to global sensation in a matter of days, as “New Soul” rocketed to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The self-titled album from whence it came received critical acclaim across the continents, hitting #11 in France and charming listeners with its sweetly bilingual discography, including a uniquely pared-down version of Britney Spears’ hit single, “Toxic.”
Born in France in 1978 to Jewish Tunisian parents, Naim has long heralded a diverse array of inspirations. After moving to Israel at age four, she became enamored of pop music upon discovering the Beatles and soon fell in love with Aretha Franklin and Joni Mitchell as well. She cites all these artists as some of her earliest and strongest influences.
Before long, young Naim was performing with Winton Marsalis and backing musicians in the vibrant city of Tel Aviv. She started her first band, The Anti-Collision, while fulfilling her required military service for Israel, returned to Paris at age 21 to pursue a career in music, and soon snagged a record deal with EMI. Her first album, released simply under the name Yael, debuted in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Naim got her big break.
Naïm attributes much of her success to a very strong creative and romantic partnership with West Indian musician and producer David Donatien, who has collaborated with her on her past three albums. “When the Steve Jobs thing happened, it was amazing because we didn’t imagine this kind of impact,” Naim has said. “We were still sitting in my little apartment in Paris. We didn’t have any money, anything. It was a homemade album.”