Every band dreams of being discovered by a major recording artist, but for a trio of Yemenite sisters from southern Israel, the dream has come true in a big way.
An Israeli band made up of three sisters, Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim, A-WA (pronounced “ay-wah”, which is Arabic for “yes”) is taking the world by storm. Their single Habib Galbi (“Love of My Heart”), which was first released in March 2015, quickly became a worldwide hit, first in Israel, then within the Arab world and Europe, and now it’s climbing the charts in North America. The song combines some very different kinds of sounds: traditional Yemenite music mixed with the latest in techno and hip-hop.
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The popularity of the song really took off after Pitbull, Cuban-American rapper Armando Christian Perez, discovered Habib Galbi and added his own vocals onto those of the singing sisters, bringing American rap to A-WA’s oriental sounds. On December 1st, the remix went live on YouTube and the iTunes store and rapidly scored tens of thousands of hits.
Steve Greenberg, the producer who heads the S-Curve Records label and is credited with making the connection between Pitbull and A-WA told Israel’s Calcalist, “The remix was done in the US by Pitbull’s people with him rapping over the music. There will also be a music video that they’ll work on together and it will be a big hit.”
Accroding to Greenberg, legendary Israeli radio announcer Tony Fyne regularly sends him Israeli radio station Reshet Gimmel’s weekly hit list. One week, A-WA’s popular single, “Habib Galbi,” was on the list and the rest is history.
Greenberg, who is noted for “discovering” popular musical acts such as Hanson, Baha Men and the Jonas Brothers, has since gone on to sign A-WA.
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From a small village in southern Israel to the top of the charts
The Haim sisters grew up in a family of six siblings in southern Israel, in the small farming village of ‘Shaharut’, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Eilat. not too far from the Egyptian border. All three of the sisters studied music, sang, danced and performed both together and separately from a very young age.
The whole Haim family was very musical and growing up the girls listened to and were inspired by many different kinds of music, including: Greek, Yemenite, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, progressive rock and more.
“We stole our parents’ vinyl and used to listen to progressive rock like Deep Purple and Pink Floyd,” Tair Haim told Rolling Stone in an interview. “We love psychedelic music of the Sixties and Seventies, and you can hear that in our music. In the Nineties we used to listen to hip-hop on MTV and the radio, which we’d record with our little cassette players.”
The first big break
The sisters, who worked hard recording materials in English, Hebrew, and Yemenite, a language and culture which always held a special place in their hearts, filmed and uploaded their musical videos to YouTube. One day the girls sent a message on Facebook to Tomer Yosef, the singer and lead vocalist for the Israeli-American electronica-world fusion band Balkan Beat Box. Yosef listened to their clip and fell in love with the band’s style and harmony.
Since winning over Yosef, the girls have been performing non-stop. They became an integral part of the stage composition of Balkan Beat Box’s MINIMAL tour and later formed their own band, A-WA. They have performed shows to excited fans around Israel and in music festivals abroad, including Poland and France. At the same time they also worked in the studio with Yosef on their debut album he produced for them, also called “Habib Galbi.” A-WA’s first album includes 12 songs, composed entirely of original performance inspired by ethnic Yemenite folk songs. In fact, NPR music ranked A-WA 23rd in its Best 50 Albums of 2016, alongside the likes of Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest and Rihanna.