A-WA: Habib Galbi

Foreign Policy Magazine is what one picks up in order to get well written, informative and insightful articles about international politics. What I never expected was a similarly great article about A-WA, an Israeli band made up of three second generation Yemeni sisters who sing in contemporary, beat-inflected Arabic:

From the shisha-smoking old lady with kohl-lined eyes, to the Yemeni dance sequences and classically Arabic mournful undertones, “Habib Galbi” looks like it could be straight out of southern Arabia. And in some ways, it is: The song is sung in authentic Yemeni dialect and is composed from the lyrics of ancient Yemeni folk songs. When a Yemeni friend recently played “Habib Galbi” for his elderly grandmother in Sanaa, their accents were so good she thought that the all-girl singing trio might be from the Haraz, a rugged mountainous region just west of the capital.

But the sandy landscape in the music video is far from the Haraz Mountains — it was shot over 1,500 miles away in the Arabah region near the Mediterranean Sea. Though the Arabic may sound effortless, those singing it actually only know the language as a second tongue. And the band — called A-Wa, a stylized transliteration of Arabic slang for “yeah” — hasn’t even come close to stepping foot in Yemen. They’re Israeli.

FP writer Gaar Adams then goes through a relatively extensive history of Israeli artists who have made inroads into Arab countries.

Indeed, when the conversation with A-Wa on Yemen veers towards the political, the sisters turn demur.

“We would love to perform in Yemen someday but the situation — it’s…” Tair hesitates, letting her sentence trail off as she searches for the proper word, “intense. We love our fans there, though.”

Like Ofra Haza and others before them, A-Wa is probably happy that their growing fame has thus far stemmed from music alone. As one Yemeni musician friend commented, when she shared the “Habib Galbi” video on her Facebook page, “A Yemeni band in Israel? Forget politics. Sweet sound.” For a group attempting to navigate such dicey cultural territory, that sounds like success.

It’s really well worth reading the article while enjoying the videos that accompany it – everything from Abanibi-Abaniba, the song that won Israel the Eurovision contest in 1978, to Ofrah Haza and Dana International – artists that have always had an underground following in Arab countries traditionally hostile to Israel.


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Category: Israel, Music
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