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Israeli-American soulful duo Yoni and Nina Tokayer are a global hit thanks to social media

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Yoni and Nina Tokayer are the duo Yonina, bringing soulful Jewish music to global audiences| Photo: Courtesy

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Yonina, a combination of the names Yoni and Nina Tokayer, is an Israeli-American husband-wife music duo, that has taken the Jewish music world by storm. They began posting weekly videos online in 2016, and since then, their breathtaking sound has reached millions of viewers, with the record being their cover of Matisyahu’s One Day with more than 40 million views from around the globe.

Today, Yonina sells out venues in their home country Israel, and around the world, playing to a mix of secular and religious crowds. Igal Hecht recently chatted with them, to find out how they got together, and what sort of impact Covid-19 had on their career.

How did you guys get together, and when did you decide music was going to be a career? 

Nina: We met about five and a half years ago. I was working in Tzfat for my national service, and Yoni was a tour guide. He was leading a group of students over Shabbat, and we met there on the balcony of the place where I worked. We started singing together for fun, because we were both very passionate about music. A few months after we were married, we started posting weekly videos. 

Yoni: We decided that we wanted to try to perform together – not just for fun – but to share our music with the world. That’s when we started sharing Facebook posts. 

Nina: There were different milestones. It wasn’t like, ‘This is going to be our career.’ We kept taking these leaps of faith and Hashem kept giving back to us just as much. After our videos started going viral, we began getting requests for concerts, then one thing led to another.

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You mentioned to me that it went really big in Turkey, of all places? 

Nina: Right, so our One Day video is very popular in all sorts of places, but it generated a lot of Instagram followers from Turkey! We posted it on a Turkish page and Turkish people started following us. Some of them stopped when they found out we were Israeli Jews, and some of them continued. Even today, they are our biggest fanbase on Instagram. 

How has COVID-19 changed the way you create or perform?

Yoni: In the beginning, it was a little bit of a shock when we couldn’t perform anymore. We were like, ‘What are we going to do?’ Then we got some requests to do some online performances. We opened up our computer and sang some songs into the camera. We realized then that we really should turn our focus to this. So, we have a broadcasting studio in our house. When you perform on stage you are close to the audience, but there are all these lights and there’s no real talking. When you are on Zoom or social media live streaming, you can talk to people and read their comments.

Israeli-American couple Yoni and Nina Tokayer are seen here playing one of their songs in front of their online fans | Photo: Courtesy

Would it be fair to say that your career wouldn’t have blossomed without social media? And, whose idea was it to go into a car with your first baby and record songs? 

Nina: Social media has played a huge part in our journey. We feel really blessed. In the past, musicians were dependent on record labels or even reality TV. In the modern age, we get to interact with and build an audience directly. Thank God for social media!

Yoni: I started recording videos with my friend before Nina and I even met. We recorded them every Friday. Then, Nina and I decided to perform together, and I said, ‘Let’s continue what we started with my friend.’ So we did that.

Nina: As young parents trying to perform together, we felt kind of stuck. We couldn’t do it when she was sleeping, because we didn’t want to wake her up. And when she was awake, we’d have to be holding her or she’d cry. So, we just started holding her in the videos. And then if we filmed without her, people would comment, ‘Where’s the baby?’ It balanced itself out with the years because now she’s four and doesn’t sit on our laps! She doesn’t stay put for more than a second and a half!

We filmed a video in our house once, and as we were driving to a friend’s concert we discovered our audio wasn’t working. We said, ‘We have to be consistent, so we’ll just film it again in our car.’ We stopped on the side of the road, filmed ourselves, then continued to our friend’s concert. We didn’t really think twice about it. Our cover of One Day in the car ended up being our most viral video, reaching millions of views. 

Yonina’s first breakthrough hit on YouTube, a cover of Matisyahu’s One Day

Nina: People can also request songs as we go along.

Yoni: It’s very interactive. It is fun in a different way. It’s also cool. You tap into this world on Zoom and then you turn it off and you’re back at home. 

Nina: Also, I think it’s opening a lot of doors in terms of doing content abroad. Now suddenly, everything is so close – everything is a click away.

You connected over this love of more spiritually-based music. Is that element still present in yours?

Yoni: Now we are working on what we’re calling a ‘family album’. It’s our biggest project. We’ve noticed that the themes we (often sign and write about) are family-oriented. 

Nina: Also, a lot of our followers are young families. A lot of people tell us, ‘My children and grandchildren listen to your music.’ 

Yoni: So, when it comes to the content of the songs we write, of course, the connections to Hashem and the Torah and Judaism are in there. But the things we are dealing with as a family are intertwined and connected. 

Nina: And I think one thing we have in mind when we are writing our music is that on the one hand, we want it to be infused with who we are and what we believe in. We want there to be Jewish values present…. But we are also really trying to create music that will speak to everyone, regardless of whether they are secular, religious, or non-religious. 

And you’ve been doing that, right? Because your shows have been filled with secular and religiously unaffiliated people.

Yoni: It is a mix of everyone together. It’s really nice to see.

 To contact Yonina or find out more about their music visit www.yoninamusic.com

Igal Hecht is a documentary filmmaker and journalist who works all over the world. 

For more info visit www.chutzpaproductions.com

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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