It was a bold roll of the dice — Tunisian artist Yael Naim’s move in 1998 from her native Israel back to her birthplace of Paris. For a while, it seemed to pay off. She signed to a major label, recorded a debut disc, “In a Man’s Womb,” in L.A., and began placing songs in the soundtracks of films such as “Harrison’s Flowers.”
But her luck quickly changed. “I feel like I got into too much of a commercial environment, which didn’t make me feel too, ummm, calm with my music,” says Naim, 30, who plays at Bimbo’s Tuesday.
“So I did a lot of collaborations, but after a while, I decided to just stop everything, because I was getting so desperate,” she says. “The dream I had of music was dying — the dream you can have when you’re a child, where your music connects with people and you’re really doing something you love and believe in.”
That dream is thriving now, thanks, ironically, to the commercial world. Specifically, a recent television ad for Apple’s MacBook Air, which featured Naim and her percussionist partner David Donatien’s vaudevillian ballad “New Soul,” a track recorded for fun in her French living room.
As the fable goes, a California Apple exec heard the ditty on his car radio, phoned the station to get the composer’s name, then presented the number to Steve Jobs, who promptly chose it for his Air campaign. Back in Paris, Naim watched her MySpace page burst at the seams.
“We started to see that a lot of people from the U.S. were logging on,” she says. “And suddenly we went from 3,000 people a day to 60,000, and that was before things got really crazy. A week after the ad was released, “New Soul” was No. 1 on iTunes and my album (“Yael Naim & David Donatien,” hastily reissued stateside on Atlantic) was No. 5.
“And we were still in Paris,” she says. “We hadn’t made a move to promote it.”
“New Soul” was something of a mission statement for Naim, who’d served her mandatory two armed-service years in the Israel Air Force Orchestra. “One day, I looked back at my first four years in Paris and I noticed that everything had happened just the opposite of what I’d imagined,” she says.
“Everything I thought would bring me happiness didn’t, and a lot of things I was afraid of made me really happy,” she says. “I thought I was an old soul who knew life, but when my real life began, I saw that I had much more to learn than I thought.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 474-0365 or www.bimbos365club.com