This past Monday morning I sat down at my desk, and as usual, opened my Facebook. I got an alert that my friend Andy had sent me a message. No words, just a link. I clicked. The Jerusalem municipality was sponsoring a bunch of free concerts that night in the Nachlat Shiva neighborhood and A-WA was playing.
Once upon a time, around last year, three sisters from the Haim family –Tair, Liron and Tagel – from the Israeli village ‘Shaharut’ in southern Israel, started singing hypnotic traditional Yemenite chanting on top of modern electronic beats and the awesomeness which is ‘A-WA’ was born. Now I was going to go see them.
In fact their music got me through a pretty hard spell last year when it became clear that the management at the startup radio station was working for could no longer pay me and my fellow employees. While my colleagues talked about the impending horrors of unemployment and the vicissitudes of mismanagement that led to our not being able to get paid, I would turn on A-WA, go to my own personal island in my head, and start dancing. Specifically their song Habib Galbi, kept me going on a positive vibe while everything was collapsing.
So I even though I never met them, I felt a bond with these sisters and it was with a little bit of trepidation on Monday evening that I walked into the Hatulot Tent (Cat Tent) to see them live. I was afraid when I saw them on stage, I wouldn’t feel the energy. Sometimes live is a totally different experience. Like a Facebook romance that can’t survive reality. So, first thing, I lucked out and got a spot right next to the stage before everything got crowded.
Second thing, within the first five seconds of walking on stage Tair, Liron and Tagel laid down a vibe of awesome Yemenite chanting on top of a layer of funky hip-hop/electro/rock fusion that dispelled my cloud of trepidation like a murmuration of starlings flying off into the sky.
Even though I am an Ashkenazic Jew I could feel the generations of Yemenite women singing through these sisters. Seeing them sing up close is very different than listening to them through earphones. I didn’t just feel their music, I got to see their eyes while they sing, see them move, see them respond to my and the crowds energy. It’s a totally different experience. There were times during the concert where I just closed my eyes, and even though I didn’t understand 99.9 percent of what they we’re saying, I just got subsumed in the sound of their voices.
Sometimes their voices and movements would lock in to each other and when they did there was this extra energy. It was then that I really caught the family vibe, these girls grew up singing together in their house and I was seeing what originally only those privileged to sit in their living room got to see.
Another cool thing. A-WA is all about a fusion of traditional even ancient music with new vibes. I am not sure if they did it on purpose, but they wearing what looked like traditional Yemenite celebratory clothing, but on their feet, they were all wearing white Converse All-Stars. Nice touch.
I also appreciated about it was the audience. Israeli society can often be segmented with particular groups and communities pretty much sticking to their own tribe. In the audience I saw seminary girls feeling the music alongside secular college students and professionals.
One last note. A lot of times there is a wall between the performer and the audience. I didn’t feel this way at all. They didn’t puff themselves up on the stage, they were just there and present to share with us their music. They made eye contact and brought people on stage to dance. They were there with us rather than performing behind an invisible barrier. After the concert I walked to the edge of the backstage area where they were standing and they were more than happy to talk with me.
Rock on holy sisters! May Hashem bless you with even more shefa to raise up holy sounds in the Land of Israel and that your music create peace.