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The Yemeni Sisters | The Musical Heart And Soul Of The Middle East
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The Yemeni Sisters | The Musical Heart And Soul Of The Middle East

Picture of Rachel Myerson
Updated: 10 December 2015
Three Israeli sisters – Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim – are currently seducing the Israeli, and now European music scenes with their modern take on ancient Yemenite folk songs. A-WA (pronounced ‘ay-wah’), which translates to ‘yeah’ in Arabic slang, has created records with a unique blend of Yemenite traditional music, reggae and hip-hop that has become their trademark. Now, thanks to producer Tomer Yosef and the power of YouTube, A-WA is off on their European tour.

Yemenite culture has a strong tradition of music and dance hailing from its women. As women were largely illiterate, they used song to express their desires and feelings, from love to daily life issues, usually while performing household chores such as grinding flour. These songs were passed down through the generations orally. The girls consider themselves part of an ancient tribe, telling the stories of their grandparents from an updated, fresh point of view. In fact, the A-WA ’s Yemenite roots are only on their paternal side, but the culture held a huge appeal since childhood. The ‘exotic language, beautiful melodies [and] addictive groove’ captivated the three sisters, and introduced an element of spirituality into their music.

The girls began their career in show business at a young age by performing to family and friends in Shaharut, a small desert village in southern Israel, under the starry skies of their Little House on the Prairie-esque home. Years later, in between studies, the trio self-produced their initial recordings, which quickly gained universal praise on YouTube. Tomer Yosef, lead singer of the popular Israeli group BalkanBeat Box, discovered A-Wa’s unique sound and was enchanted. Yosef also has Yemenite roots, aiding the start of a magical collaboration, resulting in the sisters’ hit single and music video ‘Habib Galbi’ (Love of My Heart), filmed by Yosef in the desert. ‘Habib Galbi’ is a traditional Yemenite song that the girls were familiar with from a young age, and was first recorded by Shlomo Maga’a in the 1950s as an act of preservation. Both the music and video put a new spin on tradition, from the hot-pink hijabs worn by the sisters as they stride through the desert, to the dance moves that combine age-old steps with hip-hop moves.

A-WA has broken many barriers with their music. Their range of fans is incredibly diverse, spanning Europe and much of the Middle East. The trio told The Culture Trip that the response to their music has been ‘beyond our expectations. When we recorded the album we weren’t sure how people would react to the music, we only knew that we love it and feel strongly connected to it, and it’s great to see that so many people love and enjoy it without necessarily understanding the lyrics.’ They’re delighted that people are open to listening to their brand of music, and are pleased that, for many, their records are a reminder of ‘home.’ Most importantly, their grandmother approves.

Closer to home, the sisters are proud to engage in the Israeli music scene, which sees artists increasingly returning to their roots and drawing inspiration from their personal history, combining tradition with a range of other musical influences. A-WA’s includes Motown trios, The Jacksons, Bob Marley and Balkan music, in addition to progressive rock from the 60s and 70s.

A-WA’s exciting blend of tradition, modernity, girl power and strong vocals are sure to propel them into worldwide stardom. Catch them at Barby Bar in Tel Aviv on October 31st, 2015 and earn the right to brag ‘I was there when…’ In a couple of years when they reach peak popularity, you heard it here first.

Barby Bar, Derech Kibuts Galuyot 52, Tel Aviv, Israel, +972 03-518-8123

By Rachel Myerson

After completing a BA in English literature in the UK, Rachel wed a South American and moved to Israel. The eclectic mix of literature, food and music found in these three cultures are a continuing source of inspiration and excitement for her.