“It’s supposed to be a wakeup call to show people that Arabs and Jews can live side by side in harmony,” says Jewish Israeli recording artist Sun Tailor (Arnon Naor) about “Wake Up Now,” his catchy collaboration with Arab Israeli rapper Saz (Sameh Zakout) released September 3.
Featuring lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic and English, the song urges fellow citizens to “Wake up now; change the situation” and proclaims “Don’t want to run, I want to find a better way; don’t want to hide, I want to find a better way.”
“Wake Up” was created in a spontaneous spirit. “It was just a random jam situation that led to an artistic vision we both share, ”Naor tells ISRAEL21c. “We want people to understand it shouldn’t be a big deal when an Arab and a Jew perform together.”
The two artists were acquainted with one another, though their very different styles and backgrounds didn’t seem to lend themselves to a joint effort. Naor does folk-rock in English; Zakout raps in Arabic.
And then they met again last spring at a retreat for musicians sponsored by Seeds of Peace in the Negev desert town of Mitzpeh Ramon.
“We were all together in a giant hangar with our instruments. The situation was ready for something like this to happen,” Naor relates.
“It was during Ramadan and Saz was fasting. He started singing acapella, basically the roots of the song. When I heard that, something clicked in me. I suddenly heard a beat and a guitar riff, and it felt like something was happening. I decided to write some words in English because that’s what I usually do. But it didn’t work so I started writing in Hebrew for the first time in my life. Arabic and Hebrew are sister languages and they fit so well together.”
The song was production-ready within two days. “It was super organic and super fast,” says Naor. “We asked this one to play guitar and that one to play darbuka. Mira Awad was at the retreat and she agreed to supply vocals.”
Awad, an Arab Israeli singer and actress, collaborated with Jewish Israeli singer Achinoam Nini on the peace anthem “There Must be Another Way,” Israel’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009.
“What they did 10 years ago was their creation and we did something else,” Naor emphasizes. “We didn’t come with an agenda to write a song with a Jew and an Arab. It just happened.”
At the same time, he adds, “We need to have way more collaborations that challenge the narrative a little and make it clear that the separation between Jews and Arabs is not doing us any good and is in many ways superficial and imposed upon us by our [respective] cultures.”
Singing together does not ignore or erase differences, however. “Saz and I don’t agree on a lot of things and we are quite happy in our disagreement. It doesn’t affect our friendship,” says Naor.
In the music video of “Wake Up Now,” recorded on a rooftop overlooking Tel Aviv’s heavily Arab Jaffa district, the easy rapport among singers and backup musicians is clear to see. At one point, Naor’s wife and bass guitarist, Hila Cohen, does a little dance with Saz.
Naor is heartened by the reaction on the street and the growing popularity of the song.“Saz is getting a lot of amazing support from the Arab sector,” he says. “Saz really wanted the message to come across to both communities, and the response from both sides is encouraging.”
The pair has been booked to perform at popular Tel Aviv dance bar Kuli Alma this December. “And a few other things are in the cards,” Naor adds.