A song from an Israeli singer with Yemenite roots – but who has never visited the country – has become a surprise hit in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, the Economist reported on Tuesday.
Zion Golan's song "Sana’a al-Yemen" is frequently heard blaring from stereos and minibus speakers. "Come with me to Sanaa," Golan sings in Yemeni Arabic. "Sanaa, my home, you'll like it."
But although the lyrics refer to Sana’a as home, Golan has never been there. As an Israeli Jew he is forbidden to travel to Yemen.
Golan is one of more than 300,000 Israelis who trace their roots to Yemen, once home to a significant Jewish community dating back to at least the 2nd century, the Economist writes.
The bulk of Yemen’s Jews left when Israel was founded in 1948, escaping Yemen's instability, poverty and instances of anti-Jewish violence. Today barely a hundred Jews remain.
But cultural ties have survived. Yemeni restaurants in Israel’s Tel Aviv serve traditional cuisine and some markets discreetly stock qat, a leafy mild narcotic popular in Yemen.
Israelis of Yemeni descent such as Golan and the late Ofra Haza, a pop star famed for her fusion of western and eastern sounds, continued to write music that found an audience in Yemen, since it is grounded in the traditions of their ancestral home.
The artists' bootleg albums have long been bought and sold underground (trade with Israel is illegal in Yemen). More recently, the internet has made the songs more accessible. Young Yemenis watch performances on YouTube, sharing them on social networking sites such as Facebook, where they often express astonishment at the resilience of Yemeni culture and lament the Jewish community’s near-extinction in Yemen.