They are three Israeli sisters with a Mizrahi background who make music together and their last name is Haim. Except they aren’t exactly those Californian beach babes who sing about heartbreak, a rock band known as HAIM. No, I’m talking about A-WA (Arabic for “yes”), a Tel Aviv-based, Israel-born trio whose debut album, Habib Galbi (Love of My Heart), is so catchy it’s making the world, an American in particular, stop and listen—and dance. Like, really, really dance. (Or sometimes, just kick back.)
Early last year, the sisters Tair (31 years old), Liron (29), and Tagel Haim (25), released the music video for the album’s title track, which cuts between the sisters, dressed in hot pink headscarves trailing through the desert in a white jeep, and three young dudes dancing in sync, wearing matching electric blue tracksuits and white sneakers. It’s been viewed on YouTube over 3.7 million times, helping the track to become first-ever Arabic song to make it to No.1 on the Israeli pop charts, according to VICE.
The three sisters, whose music invokes legendary Israeli singer Ofra Haza, grew up in a small village in southern Israel, near the Egyptian border, called Shaharut. Their grandparents emigrated from Yemen in 1949, which is how they learned the unique Yemeni-Arabic dialect that you hear on their album.
[A]ll six of the Haim siblings fell in love with music at a young age, listening to their parents’ record collection including Bob Marley, ’70s and ’80s prog rock, and gypsy music. They were also drawn to the Yemenite folk cassettes they heard when they visited their grandparents.
“There’s a beautiful music scene where young musicians like us are going back to their Eastern roots, be it Egypt or Iraq—they want to bring this sound of their Jewish ancestry,” Liron Haim told VICE. “We are a different generation. We don’t feel suppressed, as our grandparents did as refugees. Our generation is more open and curious about our family roots.” (Here’s A-WA singing a Yemeni folk song “about love that hurts.”)
The trio sings in an Arabic dialect and fuses traditional lyrics with electronic dance beats and hypnotizing rhythms, with help of producer Tomer Yosef of Balkan Beat Box, who has made A-WA’s contemporary Mizrahi music sound completely, well, familiar. Now, they’ve broken into the American mainstream.
This week, Tair Haim sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone, in which she explained the group’s musical identity as Mizrahi Jews, which has come to inform the group’s message of challenging expectations and celebrating diversity. “We are women, musicians, Yemenite, Israeli,” she said. “[I]t’s OK to be many things and celebrate the parts of who we are.”
The week before that interview, the A-WA sisters were photographed in Manhattan’s Essex Street Market for The New York Times‘ Fashion & Style section. The looked cooler than you ever will while shopping at your corner bodega, wearing red eye shadow, Adidas, and prints nearly as bold as their sound.
That very day they held an album release party at Webster Hall (Habib Galbi was released in Israel in 2015). Four days later, A-WA was named to NPR’s list of this year’s top albums alongside the likes of Beyoncé’s Lemonade and the late David Bowie’s Blackstar. A-WA, I would venture to say, is in some good company.
If you’d like to experience A-WA’s goodness and grooves live, you can catch them on their European summer tour, which kicks off in France today, July 13. Or, just turn Habib Galbi all the way up and dance around your apartment in your pajamas, which is what I’ll be doing.