Israel, an Arabic song tops the charts

The Arabic song “Habib Galbi”, performed by three sisters of Yemeni background, climbs music charts in Israel.

Since last summer, the streets and trendy bars of Tel Aviv were often filled with the hypnotic melody of an unexpected song: three female voices singing “Habib Galbi” (“Love of my heart”) in Yemeni dialect of Arabic with a heavy darbuka beat and digidub behind them. The band is called A-WA (pronounced “Ay Wah”, meaning “yes” in Arabic) and it’s composed of three Israeli sisters of Yemen background who sing the traditional folk tunes passed down from their grandmother in a modern take.

With the flippancy of this pop song the band is seemingly trying to bridge the gap between Jewish and Arab culture. The success of “Habib Galbi”, which was positively received across borders in countries with which Israel has been at war for almost 70 years, is leading experts to wonder whether the song is really a sign of cultural thaw and hope in the increasingly bleak political background of the Middle Eastern country.

In a few interviews to the Middle East Eye and Times of Israel, the Haim sisters tells that Yemenite music is a rarity for Israeli girls because it’s only heard at private gatherings and performed by old women. These are centuries-old folk songs invented and performed by women and passed orally from woman to woman. Every woman can add her personal touch. In this way, tradition is kept alive and can be included in every new era.


Just since 1960, when many people moved to Israel, songwriters like Shlomo Moga began to record songs in Yemenite dialect of Arabic. “This migration brought wonderful traditions to Israel: dance, music and colourful ceremonies. The songs of our roots are folk, timeless, simple and honest. We’re adding hip-hop, reggae and electronic music to traditional Yemenite music”.


It’s not the first time that an Arabic song is a hit in Israel: in the ‘80s there was Ofra Haza. But after that Israeli radio and the other media have been banning Arabic songs for decades, A-WA’s story can be considered a positive one and can provide food for thought.

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