November is Mizrahi Heritage Month, a time dedicated to bringing visibility to Jewish people of Middle Eastern and North African heritage.
“Mizrahi,” meaning east in Hebrew, describes the Jews that live in diaspora in the Middle East and North Africa. Historically, Mizrahi Jews have built vibrant, prosperous communities despite the discrimination they face in the Islamic world. Today, their rich history and culture is often sidelined by the history and customs of Ashkenazi Jews in the West. In honor of Mizrahi Heritage Month, it is time to make space for Mizrahi stories–and there is no better way to tell a story than through music.
Mizrahi music has taken over the Israeli pop scene. Three sisters from the small desert town of Shaharut, Israel, have quickly risen to global stardom.
Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim are the spirited sister trio behind the popular band, A-WA. A-WA (meaning “yes” in Arabic) has become an international sensation. The band’s songs, which are sung in the Yemini dialect of Judeo-Arabic, incorporate modern elements of hip hop and funk into their guttural Yemini folk songs. Their hit song, “Habib Galbi,” or “Love of my Heart,” transcended cultural boundaries and was the first Arabic song to hit number one on the Israeli music charts.
The Haim sisters descend from a music-loving Jewish family with roots in Yemen, Morocco, and Ukraine. Their paternal grandparents were airlifted to Israel from Sana’a, Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet, an Israeli initiative to rescue Yemini Jews from unsafe conditions in their country due to violent antisemitism.
From a young age, the sisters loved music and performing, prompting Tair to pursue a bachelors in musicology from the Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv. Liron and Tagel shared her sister’s creative instincts, and they pursued studies in design and architecture. Now they are making music for everyone—Jew and Arab alike.
A-WA is a monumental force for a number of reasons. Not only is the group a Jewish female powerhouse, but their music transcends the Israeli/Jewish-Arab divide, having gone viral in both the Jewish and Arab worlds.
A-WA’s music celebrates Mizrahi Jewish culture through Judeo-Arabic language and Jewish-Yemini songs. The Haim sisters modernize Yemini music with an electric pop twist, reviving their heritage for the contemporary music scene. The music video for “Habib Galbi” blends traditional Yemenite and modern hip-hop dancing and features Yemini dress. This modern twist makes their music accessible to a larger audience. Now everyone can enjoy a soundbite from the beautiful story of Yemeni Jews.
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