Three Jewish sisters and one Yemeni hit

In the desert, work is in full swing. Three young women are cooking, chopping wood and even shaving a man while singing about great love. Finally, dressed in pink jelabiyas (a loose body covering in Arab countries), they hop on an open-topped jeep and drive through desert. They reach a fairytale palace. There, three young boys in identical blue tracksuits rhythmically hop around under the watchful eye of a woman. The strict lady in a rocking chair only relaxes when they all start dancing together.

This straight-from-fantasy storyline is the scenario of an energetic music video, in which three sisters: Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim sing a traditional song of Yemeni Jews and Tamir Muskat mixes electronic sounds and hip-hop beats. The ‘Habib galbi’ video conquered the internet in 2016 and became a springboard for the A-Wa band’s career. Soon, a separate album, exclusively featuring remixes of the title hit, was released alongside the group’s first album. To understand who the young and successful Jewish women are, one has to go back in time a little.

Back in the nineteenth century, the Jewish diaspora was scattered throughout the Ottoman Empire. However, in the wave of post-war decolonisation, the UN General Assembly decided to divide the British Mandate of Palestine. This is how the territories of Israel and Palestine came into being in 1947. The decision caused widespread outrage in the Arab world. Due to the increasing persecution of Yemeni Jews, the newly formed state of Israel organised an operation ‘The Flying Carpet’. They kept it in secret. In less than fifteen months in late 1949 and early 1950, almost 50,000 Jews from Yemen, as well as Aden, Eritrea and Djibouti, were brought into the country by American and British aircraft.

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And so it was that Yemeni Jews, and among them, the grandparents of the Haim sisters, found themselves in Israel. Mr and Mrs Haim settled among thirty other Jewish families from Yemen in Shahrut. Shahrut is a settlement in the Negev desert, near the Red Sea. From the 1990s onwards, their three granddaughters have been visiting them every summer. The girls were eager to learn traditional Hebrew and Aramaic psalms, as well as songs of women from Yemen. That is why the song ‘Habib galbi’ became Israel’s first-ever hit sung in Arabic to top the charts.

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The entire remix album is available on Spotify. 

This article appears as part of a series in which we take a closer look at music from different cultural backgrounds. We are describing its contexts and the figures associated with it. The originator of the series and author of the entry is Michał Misiarczyk.

Michał Misiarczyk – sociologist, works with the German language. Fascinated by the cultural diversity of the world, in particular music and languages. Volunteer in the media department of Salam Lab.

photo by Tamir Moosh, Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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