They hail from a small farming village called Shaharut in southern Israel and sing in a nearly extinct Arabic dialect spoken by the Jews of Yemen, but sister act A-Wa (which means “yeah” in Arabic slang) have not let any limitations define them. The odds are considerably against the trio. Their music—which mixes ancient folk genres with hip hop and EDM beats—isn’t the easiest to comprehend, though the group’s 3.6 million YouTube views (and counting) prove that there is a growing demand forsocially charged music. As their first single, “Habib Galbi” (translated as “Love of My Heart”) can attest, siblings Tair, Tagel and Liron Haim are more than up for the challenge. The song has already created a network of peace on the Internet, a space where popularity often breeds contempt. For example, when popular online Muslim forum Mipsterz posted A-Wa’s feminist video for “Habib Galbi” (in which the three women balk at convention and old world patriarchy), the track’s visuals were praised, inspiring comments such as “this group demonstrates how Jewish people are part of the fabric of Arabic culture too” and “let’s take a moment to embrace the fact that there is almost no racism in this comment section.” The threesome are elated by what they call “a full embrace” of their artistry, background and mission for equality, as the “Habib Galbi” video is a strong statement. The mini film depicts the three sisters toiling away in the middle of the desert in Shaharut (where they grew up and learned to play music on their father’s instruments), subservient to the men in the family. By the end of the track, the trio is driving away from the old-fashioned roles they inherited and escaping tradition in a Jeep while wearing hot pink hijabs.
“We wanted women to know that even in the most isolated places, you can shine,” says Tair, 33, the eldest sister in the group. A-Wa’s fashion reflects their quest for freedom. “Sure, we could go onstage in high heels and mini skirts,” says 27-year-old Tagel, “but that doesn’t say anything unique to us.” Handmade, embroidered Balochi dresses (found in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan) are part of A-Wa’s lookbook, as well as traditional dresses from Morocco and Yemen. “We don’t want to go with tradition as is,” Tagel says. “Our clothes are just like our music—we wear them with Converse sneakers. That cross of cultures relates to our sound and songs.”
What motivates the sisters most is honouring the tradition of the ancient women who sang folk songs of love and sacrifice, which inspired their debut disc. “The women who wrote these songs were not educated formally,” says 31-year-old Liron. “They couldn’t participate in men’s religious services in the synagogue so they built a separate cultural life and they sang. We are just an extension of it.”
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