The sounds of Yemen

Three years after their first album, the Haim girls of A-Wa are back

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July 21, 2019 21:08
4 minute read.
The sounds of Yemen

TAIR, LIRON and Tagel Haim of A-Wa. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Barby club in Tel Aviv was packed – sold out, actually.

There was no opening act. But who needed one? The roar from the crowd of a few hundred was deafening as Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim of A-Wa took to the stage Wednesday night to present their new album. And that roar lasted throughout the night.

After touring in Paris and New York, “now is the chance to be home in Tel Aviv,” Tair Haim told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the show on Wednesday.

Opening with their latest single “Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman” (Here is not Yemen), the show was nonstop – the tunes of a lost land, the stories of a strong woman who made her way to Israel from Yemen: Their great-grandmother Rachel.

Years after she was born in a society where her voice was not heard, her voice and her stories were brought to a captivated crowd through her great-granddaughters.

“We blended her voice and our voice. It’s a very special album for us,” Tair told the Post.

“We heard her stories as little girls and it always influenced us. And we were around her stories for many years and we knew that we wanted to write about it and the timing was so right after the first album which was based on Yemenite folk songs based down by women-an oral tradition that we put our twist on,” she said, explaining that the new album was written “from scratch.”

“We wanted it to be a concept album and we knew we could write a whole album around our great-grandmother Rachel. The stories were strong and worth telling.”

And even if they didn’t know her, their great-grandmother was a “legendary character” in the family, Tair said. “She was a feminist without knowing the term – a Jewish woman in a Muslim country that treated women as a second class citizen but she was very unique. She wasn’t willing to go with what society was planning for her.”

Explaining the meaning behind the album’s name, Bayti Fi Rasi, Tair explained that her great-grandmother always used to tell people who asked why she kept traveling that “I can’t stay in one place, home is in my head. So we chose that name for our album because we wanted to question the notion of home and how women were treated back then and how they are treated now.”

The sisters drew “a line from our great-grandmother’s life and that we still have a way to go, that we need to take care of our rights,” Tair said, explaining that the album is relevant to the issues facing women today.

“The problems of refugees around the world, the issues of women – that we earn less than men, the abortion issue in the states... We still need to fight for these things... There are so many problems, in Israel, everywhere, we as women need to gather and fight for these rights. To make this world a better place,” she continued.

“Our great-grandmother didn’t know the term feminism, but she was unique, she didn’t stay where she thought she was treated badly,” Tair explained. “She took on societal pressure, she was very opinionated and wanted to control her life and it was hard for her.” She added that her great-grandmother “made a courageous journey” to Israel as a single mother with her daughter.

But even once she arrived in Israel along with thousands of other Yemenite Jews, her problems continued.

“Yemenite Jews always dreamed about Israel but she had mixed feelings once she got here... she was hoping to be well received and finally find a home,” Tair said. But instead, she ended up in the transition camps and was looked upon by the Ashkenazi Jews “as a primitive or foreign creature.”

But decades later, Rachel’s great-granddaughters are extremely proud of their heritage, rocking the crowd in traditional Yemeni dress, sharing those exact feelings with the lyrics of their songs.

“I came to you fleeing, you saw me as primitive,” they sang in “Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman.” And meshing the hard work of their great-grandmother with the pressure of the 21st century. “This is for all those who are creating their own luck,” Tair told the crowd.

And while the majority of the crowd may not have understood the words of the songs, which were all in Arabic, the meanings were not lost. The bodies which swayed and the hands which clapped throughout the show were a mix of Mizrachi and Ashkenazi Jews – Israelis young and old whose families share similar stories with Rachel: families who created their own luck.

Outside was jachnun and inside, the vibes of Yemen.


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