A-WA: Bayti Fi Rasi

Rachel’s Album

Listening Post 224. In Genesis, Rachel leaves Haran with her large family and reaches the Promised Land before dying in childbirth. In modern times, the Rachel who often declared Bayti Fi Rasi (My Home Is in My Head) was a single mother who left the land of her birth—transported in an airlift that took 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel in 1949-50—trading oppression in one country for hardship in another. Multitudes remember the biblical matriarch, but if a family is a world of it’s own then Rachel of Yemen is equally blessed, an inspiration to her great-granddaughters Liron, Tagel and Tair Haim, better known as A-WA. The title track from the trio’s debut album Habib Galbi became the first Arabic-language song to lead the Israeli music charts and also a viral video in the Muslim world. That 2016 album featured traditional Yemeni Arabic chants with electro and rap accents; for their second outing the sisters deliver a concept album addressing the global refugee crisis through the experience of the resilient, proto-feminist great-grandmother they never met but on whose stories they grew up. Bayti Fi Rasi extends their retro-modern mix of Yemeni tradition, dazzling harmonies and hip-hop pluck but this time the songs are all self-written. In Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman (Here Is Not Yemen), the sisters evoke Israel’s biblical promise and also the marginalization Mizrahi immigrants often felt (video 1), while Mudbira (Unlucky One) is a hymn to Rachel’s underlying optimism (video 2). The lyrics describe leaving home with only cultural baggage in Ya Watani (My Homeland, video 3) and insecurity in a new land in Malhuga (Haunted, video 4). As the title song recounts, life taught Rachel to lead with her head (video 5). Seventy years after her journey, her granddaughters hold her not only in their hearts, but also in their irrepressible voices. (S-Curve Records)

A-WA*: Bayti Fi Rasi/בֵּיתִי בְּרֹאשִׁי/بيتي في راسي
Liron Haim, Tagel Haim, Tair Haim: Vocals
Avner Cohen: Featured artist, vocals
Tom Darom: Keyboards, synthesizer
Nitzan Eisenberg: Bass, Moog synthesizer
Yogev Glusman: Guitar, violin
Noam Havkin: Keyboards, synthesizer
Tamir Muskat: Drums, guitar, keyboards, programming

*A-WA is Arabic for “Yes”

 

Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman/Here Is Not Yemen/هانا ماش هو اليمن
Lyrics: A-WA (Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim)/Music: A-WA, Tamir Muskat
From the Arabic lyrics, English translations by Danya Chudacoff 

Land of wheat and barley, grape and olive/Fig and pomegranate, date and home

Where will I stake a home?/(You have a tent for now)
Or at least a small shack/(Along with four other families)
And here I will raise a family/(Don’t let them take your daughter)
I’ll find myself a job with an income/(Either in cleaning or working the earth)
And I will learn the language/(Lose the accent)

With time I’ll feel like I belong/(Here is not Yemen)
I came to you a stranger/You saw me as primitive
I came to you fleeing/I saw you as a last resort

 

Mudbira/Unlucky One/مدبره
Lyrics: A-WA (Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim)/Music: A-WA, Tamir Muskat

Oh, little one/You’re down on your luck
Stay with us/Where will you go from here?

I can’t stay in one place/The country is wide but my horizon narrow
The gate of father’s home has shut/Mother’s voice no longer sings

Home – None
Keys – None
Neither luck, nor a shoe

Oh, little one/You’re down on your luck
Stay with us/Where will you go from here?

Men come and go from my life/I laugh and my eyes tear
My first was arranged and smelled foul/The second pinched like an old shoe
And the third – who knows?/Who knows?

Home – None
Keys – None
Neither luck, nor a shoe

Oh, little one/You’re down on your luck
Stay with us/Where will you go from here?

I learned to walk along winding roads/Each unfortunate one has their corner
Each unfortunate one has hope/With which the sun will shine tomorrow

Oh, little one/You’re down on your luck
Stay with us/Where will you go from here?

 

Ya Watani/My Homeland/يا وطني
Lyrics: A-WA (Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim)/Music: 
A-WA, Tamir Muskat

My humble homeland/My sun-drenched homeland
Show me your smile for the last time/
Before I leave

I will take my daughter; my loneliness/My mother’s language; my father’s weaving
I will take my daughter; my loneliness/My mother’s language; my father’s weaving

My humble homeland/My sun-drenched homeland
Show me your smile for the last time/Before I leave

I will take your dishes; I will take the hunger/The strength within me; my broken heart
My wandering soul; I will take the falsehood/My sincere prayers; my total despair
I will take my daughter; my loneliness/My mother’s language; my father’s weaving

My humble homeland/My sun-drenched homeland
Show me your smile for the last time/Before I leave

I will take your dishes; I will take the hunger/The strength within me; my broken heart
The thorn in my heel; the scarf for my head/I will take my home

 

Malhuga/Haunted/ملحوقه
Lyrics: A-WA (Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim)/ Music: A-WA, Tamir Muskat

Moon of Samna*/Come through the window
Comfort me with your light/As I lay down to rest

A person’s home — their fortress/How insecure I feel
Between these four walls/
I am a haunted tenant

This morning in the garden/I heard a sigh
Someone spoke to me from under the earth/“Generations I have been sleeping on my right
I replied: “Turn over, dear, onto your other side”

A person’s home — their fortress/How insecure I feel
Between these four walls/I am a haunted tenant

The nights bring an uninvited stranger/Holding a dagger and donning a cape
“Generations I have been sleeping on my right”/I replied: “Turn over, dear, onto your other side”

I am new to this village/Haven’t gotten any rest since I arrived
With neither a friend nor acquaintance/
I sleep with one eye open

*clarified butter

 

Bayti Fi Rasi/My Home Is in My Head/بيتي في راسي
Lyrics: A-WA (Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim)/Music: A-WA, Tamir Muskat

What is a home?/You tell me
I found it neither in the city; nor in the village/ Neither in Ibb nor in Sana’a

I am a woman, I am a man, I am a journey/My home is in my head
A refuge for my heart/Wherever I go, it is with me

What is family? You tell me
At times I am a man, at times a woman/A mother and father to my little girl

My home is in my head/A refuge for my heart
Wherever I go, it is with me

What is family? You tell me
At times I am a man, at times a woman/A mother and father to my little girl

My home is in my head/A refuge for my heart
Wherever I go, it is with me

 

 


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