Whisperlights' "Ulna Habenaha," Explained by the Band
The Whisperlights have released plenty of catchy songs between their debut EP, Wake up Dead, and their upcoming full-length album, Surfaces. The new album explores new sounds with violinist/singer Tobie Milford picking up a guitar on tracks that shift away from themes of death to subtle love songs.
What makes the album particularly unique is "Ulna Habenaha," a song sang entirely in Arabic that translates to "We said we loved her." The song is showing up more and more frequently on their setlist.
After the jump, Wasef El-Kharouf explains the background of "Ulna Habenaha," along with a stream of the song.
Wasef gave me a quick Arabic lesson to help explain the song. "Us Arabs transliterate Arabic lettering into Latin using numbers because the numbers look like our letters that represent certain sounds that don't exist in English."
"It's about the guilt I felt after realizing that when my little sister needed me to understand her the most, when she was going through a difficult time in her later teens, I thought I was doing the right thing by being distant because I thought I was a bad influence on her. It ended up backfiring and caused a little rift between us for a couple of years. Ultimately, it's about trying to understand someone rather than insist on a particular fix.
'7elweh, bass za3laneh', the 'she's beautiful but she's sad' line comes from these two guys who were walking behind her in downtown Geneva speaking to one another in Arabic not knowing that she understood them. That tends to happen a lot in multi-national Geneva. One of the guys said she was pretty and his friend said, 'Yeah, but she's sad', then he started clapping and singing it in stereotypical Arab fashion. My sister then looked behind her and said, 'Min shoftak' -- 'it's from looking at your face.'"
Singer/guitarist Illya Riske adds, "I had this progression, I brought it in and we started playing it, and then one day Wasef started singing along to it. When we stopped, he was like, 'I dunno about that,' and I screamed, 'No, that's perfect! That's exactly how it needs to sound!'"
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.