Yoni and Nina Tokayer, better known as the duo band “Yonina,” are making a name for themselves in contemporary Jewish music. Their cover of Matisyahu’s “One Day” has gone viral, now reaching over 25 million Facebook views. Yonina’s pure talent, love of God, and commitment to one another continue to captivate thousands of followers around the globe. During Yonina’s recent Shabbat visit to Stern College, the duo spread light and love to the YU community through their spirituality, happiness, and warmth.
Nina opened up to The Observer about Yonina’s journey. Below is a transcript of the interview.
Talya Hyman: When did you realize that you both share a deep love for music and singing?
Nina: Really, really quickly. We did not meet through music, but from our first conversation we realized that we were both very passionate about music. Yoni told me that he was in the middle of recording a solo album, and I told him that I also write music. I never thought that I would marry a musician, but it’s been an amazing added bonus.
TH: When you recorded your very first video, what inspired you to upload it and share your talents with the world?
Nina: The idea actually came from Yoni and his friend way before we met. They thought it would be cool to post weekly pre-Shabbat videos. They did it for a while, and when Yoni and I met they were still posting every week. After we got married, I joined in, but we were living in Tel Aviv, and our friend lived in Jerusalem. It was hard with the distance, so the three of us stopped making videos. At a certain point, Yoni and I realized that making videos is an amazing tool to share our music together, so we got back to it, but as a new page and called it Yonina.
TH: What do you hope to communicate with your audience?
Nina: So much. At the most basic level we just hope it will do good to people. If people feel like they need happiness in their lives, or strength, or inspiration, or a connection to Israel, to Judaism. We hope that the music will be able to speak to every person, wherever they’re at. We aspire for our music to come from a genuine place, to be very honest and real—as hard as that is—week after week. I don’t know if we always manage to live up to that, but it’s an aspiration. We just hope to bring people closer to themselves, to each other, to the Divine.
TH: What is the most special part about performing together?
Nina: It’s so complex, and sort of goes both ways. On one hand, it’s amazing. As someone once put it, “I get to do what I love the most with the person I love the most.” So that’s really special. It’s exciting to be able to share so many experiences, this roller-coaster ride, together as a couple. Creating music together brings our relationship to a whole other level. But it’s also really challenging. Working together all the time is really intense. Creating together is hard because we both have different visions, wanting to take things in different directions. It’s a challenge for our relationship, but it also adds depth.
TH: How do you work together during those times when your visions do differ, and how do your separate talents come together?
Nina: We try and find something that we both connect to. There’s no one formula, but we work together and learn each other’s strengths. We naturally gravitate towards different things, which is an easy way to split the roles. Yoni has a good ear for chords and sound, and I’m better at remembering words. We were each doing music way before we met, so it wouldn’t be right just to merge our identities together completely. We still are independent people in the end. That’s the special thing about marriage—you’re one, but you’re also separate. Down the road we do have thoughts of releasing solo albums. But we love making music together. We feel like the sum is larger than the separates.
TH: Many of your songs are Tefillot, which are very personal—does that change the way you perform the songs?
Nina: In general, performing is very personal. We hope that our concerts are like one long prayer, tefillah, of everyone together. I feel like any song that is meaningful is a prayer; something we’re longing for, something deep that we want to express. We hope people can relate to that, wherever they are in their lives.
TH: What is the most meaningful message someone has said to you about your music?
Nina: Thank God, we get a lot of beautiful responses from people. Once we got a message from an Arab-Muslim living in Yafo who said, “I love your music. It makes me believe in peace. I even waited until after Shabbat to like your page.” That was really powerful. Other people tell us that our music makes them feel connected when they’re going through a rough time, that our music inspires and gives them strength. Every so often, we’re told by people that they heard our song “Ahava” being played at a wedding as the chatan and kallah walked down the aisle to the chuppah. It always touches us when we hear that people feel so connected to our songs that they use them to express their love to each other.
TH: Being in the spotlight, do you feel any pressure to make a Kiddush Hashem?
Nina: I always feel pressure to make a Kiddush Hashem. We have been blessed—Hashem has been really good to us, and we need to go and do good things with what He’s given us. We aren’t just trying to make a living; there’s a greater reason why we’re in this place where we can reach so many people. We try our best to use this tool to make people happy and spread positivity and love for Israel and Judaism- adding meaningfulness.
TH: How does it feel to know that your music has the power to reach so many different types of people?
Nina: Scary and empowering. Scary, because this is such an incredible opportunity and we don’t want to miss it. We want to do it right. Empowering because we feel blessed.