A pop trio of half-Yemenite Israelis takes the Arabic world by storm.
A trio of sisters wearing hot pink hijabs piles into a dusty white Jeep and rambles across the desert. At home in the village, a man with a closely-cropped white beard shaded by his military cap whips a lash upon the cracked, sandy ground, while an elderly woman with sunken eyes and gold-painted fingernails puffs idly from a hookah as she sits in a rocking chair. She watches a crew of young men in blue track suits bounce around to what looks like a choreographed hip-hop routine, but really it’s a type of folk dance known as the “Yemenite Step.” Bright and colorful, these scenes were filmed to accompany the somber undertones of the Yemenite folk song, “Habib Galbi” (“Love of My Heart”), recently infused with electropop beats by A-WA — an Israeli band that has been gaining popularity from Tel Aviv to Tangier.
Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim, the three sisters who make up A-WA, told me during a Skype conversation that growing up, their lives resembled an Israeli “Little House on the Prairie.” The sisters, ages 26 through 32, are the eldest of six children, raised in Shaharut, a tiny farming village, in the Arava Valley of southern Israel. As children, they would perform at school concerts, run around barefoot, and “sing to the wind,” as one of the sisters put it. Their mother, of Ukrainian and Moroccan heritage, used to give them pots and pans as percussion instruments. “We blossomed at home,” said Liron. Four years ago, on a trip back home from Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, where the sisters now live, they began collaborating again and officially started their band A-WA. It’s pronounced “Ay-Wah” and means “yeah” in Arabic slang.
The Haim sisters sing in what they call “Yemenite,” a nearly extinct dialect of Arabic spoken by the Jews of Yemen. “Our dad, who’s the Yemenite one, was not sure at the beginning