Day Out: Sister Act: Shopping With A-Wa

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As they ambled through the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side last week, the Haim sisters — Tagel, Tair and Liron — made a playful detour. Stopping at a produce stand, Tagel lifted a pair of peppers to her ears.

She was showing off her makeshift earrings when her siblings joined her. Tagel dropped the peppers and grinned wickedly as she hoisted two squash breast high; Liron lifted another that was perfectly contoured to the line of her hips.

“Everything is natural, just like the shapes of our bodies,” Tagel said, moving on to a bin lavishly piled with yellow and orange cherry tomatoes.

The sisters (not to be confused with Haim, the California sister trio), in their late 20s and early 30s and known collectively as the music group A-Wa (Arabic for “Yes!”), had gathered the makings of a crazy salad. An unlikely fusion of disparate elements, it was something like their sound, a resolutely upbeat mixture of hip-hop and electro pop beats and the melodies of their Yemeni heritage.

Relaxing before a performance at Webster Hall in the East Village, they darted past pyramids of fruit and shelves lined with exotic coffee blends and cheeses, dressed in a chaotic mash-up of flowing floral- and fruit-pattern skirts, which were nearly lost amid the gaily colored produce.

“Markets are always so colorful and diverse,” Tagel said. “You get to see stuff, smell it, touch it.”

Finishing her thought, Liron chimed in, “They play on all your senses.”

Their music videos, too, encourage audiences to sample, absorb and practically inhale the sensations of the desert where the young women grew up. At its debut last year, their hit single, “Habib Galbi,” inspired by a Yemeni folk song and shot in the arid landscape of the Arava Valley in Israel, gained an international audience, including Europeans and Mipsterz (Muslim hipsters), and close to 3.7 million views on YouTube.

The sisters distill and interpret the folk songs of their grandparents, singing in what they call Yemenite, a nearly extinct dialect of Arabic spoken by the Jews of Yemen.

“We weren’t sure how people were going to accept three young women bringing Yemini music to the front stage,” said Tair, the most robustly outspoken of the three. “We didn’t label ourselves as Yemini Jews or anything else. We announced ourselves as a fresh sound from the desert.

“We wanted people to look at the video and feel no judgment,” she added. “We wanted to confuse them — in a good way.”

Their message, one of inclusion, is reinforced in their day-to-day lives by spontaneously generous, if unabashedly corny, gestures. “We spread the love,” Tair said of their habit of sending fans they know well videos to celebrate a wedding day, a graduation or a bar or bat mitzvah.

She drove home the point, stopping with her sisters at a corner market on Rivington Street to buy sunflowers, and promptly distributed them to random passers-by.

But enough. Before long, the three grew restless, peering avidly into shop windows, unable, finally, to resist the blandishments of Edith Machinist, a vintage store on Rivington. They popped in, slipped on shoes, plucked tunics from the racks and chattered in an animated mix of Hebrew and English peppered with Arabic phrases.

“I feel like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters,” Tair said, grumbling good-naturedly as she tried to wedge her feet into a pair of minuscule flats.

“I love all the — how do you call them? — Oxford shoes,” Tagel said. Alongside her, Liron checked her reflection, holding aloft a tiger-pattern top.

“It’s very light, like a kimono,” she said.

In a matter of seconds, she had sprinted toward the front of the shop to pose gamely for her sisters in an old-fashion-looking DKNY straw cloche. “I like it,” Tair said, coaxing, “Make like Jane from Tarzan” and “Show your bangs, girl.”

Parched from their hectic shopping rounds, the three, joined by their stylist Ron Ben Nun, retreated to the home of Michelle Caputo, a television producer and friend, settling on her palmy terrace on the Lower East Side to sample wine and cheese. The conversation returned to their sound, which incorporates shards of Motown, Ella Fitzgerald and North African beats.

In their music, as in their look, “We are not just one thing,” Tair said. “We’re saying, ‘It’s O.K. to celebrate the many parts of who you are.’”

Their style, Ms. Ben Nun acknowledged, is laden with symbolism. A pattern of prickly pears swarmed over Tagel’s floor-length dress. “They are Sabra,” she said, referring simultaneously to the desert flower and the native-born Israelis who bear its name.

And what of those other three musical sisters who share their last name? “We like Haim and would love to meet them,” they said nearly in unison. “People think we’re related,” Tair said. They’re not.

But then, as she was prompt to interject, “We are all related.”

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