February 25 2019

Annie O Presents: A-Wa

New York-Standard Sounds
On Wednesday, February 27th, Standard Sounds is presenting A-WA at the Top of The Standard. The sister trio from Israel makes Yemenite folk with electronic beats and Hip-Hop elements. The title track from their debut album, “Habib Galbi”, racked up 11 million views on YouTube and was the first-ever #1 song in Israel in Arabic. Rolling Stone, NY Times, Vogue and more have all shown the band love with the latter delightfully asking “Who are these women in high top sneakers and djellabas, and where have they been all their lives?”
This spring, A-WA will release BAYTI FI RASI (5/31) and they’ve already shared the cinematic video for “Mudbira”, shot in Israel’s Arava Valley on the Jordan border.

What does “BAYTI FI RASI” mean?

Bayti Fi Rasi means “my home is in my head” in Yemenite-Arabic, which is a phrase our great-grandmother used to say with a sassy attitude and a slight humor whenever she was asked why she was moving from one place to another. She never felt too attached to any physical home of her own, so she was in constant search for her place in the world and for better luck in her life. This phrase got into our hearts and became the spirit and concept of the whole album, which deals with questions of home, love, marriage, luck, fear and courage—the sort of self-searching journeys that we all still go through, as inspired by her.

What is the inspiration for your new song “Mudbira”? How did you come up with the concept for the music video? 

Mudbira is a commonly-used nickname in Yemen used to describe a woman who has no luck—said with a mix of self-deprecating humor and acceptance. It’s funny how we can all relate to that sort of feeling sometimes; especially for us coming from such a tiny place loaded with big dreams. Our great-grandmother knew she was mudbira. She dealt with many struggles as a lower-class single mom, yet a very powerful feminist who refused to be downtrodden.

When we were writing the script for the music video, we really wanted to portray the strong badass female leadership like the shepherdesses around Yemen. We had a very clear vision to accompany the narrative with the aesthetics and atmosphere we love—the vibe of old golden aged Egyptian cinema, poppy colors and the set of the desert: our natural habitat. The art direction was such a fun process for us, bringing the spirit of the song into visuals. The fashion is inspired by the real look of shepherdesses in Hadramaut, Yemen, but with our own design and touch.

You had the first-ever #1 song in Israel sung in Arabic. How did that milestone feel?

It's an amazing milestone that we are very proud of taking part in, but most of all, it shows how things are changing for the better from the previous generation to the next one. For top Mizrahi vocalists who we grew up listening to (such as Ofra Haza, Avner Gadassi, Aharon Amram, and many others), it wasn’t easy and they were never encouraged to put a full-length Arabic song on the radio because in their times it was considered to be too foreign. Fortunately, nowadays the media and radio stations are more open to playing ethnic music in its authentic form. After all, Israel is a melting pot of cultures.


Our fashion fusion is our way to visually translate our music and spirit, mixing up street-style with culturally traditional pieces like a neon jalabiya paired with sneakers and vintage Yemenite jewelry


 


 

Can you tell us about your personal styles and how you mix of traditional pieces with ultra-modern sneakers and athleisure?

Our fashion fusion is our way to visually translate our music and spirit, mixing up street-style with culturally traditional pieces like a neon jalabiya paired with sneakers and vintage Yemenite jewelry.

What is it like to work with your sisters?

We're best friends and we share the same love for music and art since childhood. We feel most comfortable and empowered around each other. Each one brings her own voice and qualities to the table and together we feel like a tripled force. We feel very lucky to be working with each other and bring our own unique style and dynamic on and off-stage.

What can we expect from your show at the Top of The Standard?

We see every concert as a celebration of life and ourselves as storytellers. We're super excited to be sharing songs off our new album and some stories behind its creation. We're bringing our incredible band members who always bring the rock n’ roll vibes. Expect a lot of groove, vocal harmonies and wild sounds of Yemenite tin drum.

What is the process of writing songs in one language and singing in another?

It's a fascinating process for us since Arabic and Hebrew have a lot of similarities for being both Semitic languages. We usually write in Hebrew mixed with Yemenite-Arabic, then shape the final version with our brilliant translator. 

What excites you most about performing the new songs?

Performing these new original songs feels closer to our hearts, especially because they’re inspired by the true journey of our Great-grandmother across Yemen and her arriving to Israel, and also because we put ourselves in her shoes and sort of blend her with ourselves into one voice.

Are you doing anything fun in your downtime in NYC?

We hope for some free time to explore the city. Whenever we're in NYC we feel as if we're a part of something that's bigger than us. This iconic city is so different from the small village we grew up in but represent the cultural experience we've been looking up to, such as the hipster fashion, musical theater, and golden-age cinema. 

INTERVIEW BY
Annie O