Your Middle East
Last updated: September 23, 2015

VIDEO: For the first time in history, Arabic-language song topped Israeli charts

Banner Icon The massive – and unexpected – hit 'Habib Galbi' is performed by three Israeli sisters of Yemeni roots.

In an insightful interview with the Middle East Eye, the women behind A-WA speak of their intimate relationship to Arabic music. “Yemenite music was something very special for us, something overwhelming," band member Tair tells journalist Alex Shams. "The first time I remember hearing Yemenite music, I was five years old and attending a henna celebration for my uncle. There was a singer on a tin drum, singing with such a unique voice that it caught my ears and I started imitating her.”

A-WA's hit song Habib Galbi is actually a rendition of a tune sung by the sisters' grandmother, who originally came from Ibb in Yemen, but moved to Israel in 1949.

Arabic culture remained an integral part of the family's home as the girls grew up. "It was natural for us to choose Arabic," middle sister Liron tells Middle East Eye. "It’s more authentic and it felt right … We never even thought of translating the songs. We wanted to preserve them as they are and only give them our own twist."

“We are three sisters singing Yemenite music. It is very rare that women from Israel, especially young women, sing this kind of music, because these days you only hear it at private gatherings, and usually performed by older women," Liron says.

"But we take it front of stage and give it a modern twist that opens the ears of many young people as well."

The article in Middle East Eye, written by Alex Shams, provides valuable insight into the legacy of Arab-Jewish culture in Israel. Shams explains that: 
"On the surface, the commercial success of an Arabic-language hit seems a given in Israel, considering the fact that a majority of the population is Arabic-speaking or of Arab origin, regardless of religion."

"But there is a reason that Habib Galbi is the first chart-topping Arabic song in Israeli history. For decades, Arabic music - and Mizrahi music more broadly - was banned on Israeli radio, in what is seen as part of a larger cultural suppression."

For the full article, click here.

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