Since it premiered online last month, the music video “Hwages” has been viewed more than 2 million times and has become the subject of widespread debate in Saudi Arabia — as well as considerable celebration.
Take a look for yourself and it is clear why.
Not only is the song catchy, the accompanying video, created by director Majed al-Esa of the Saudi production company 8ies Studios, features a group of charismatic women skateboarding, playing basketball, driving bumper cars and much more. At the same time, they wear brightly colored sneakers and fashionable dresses under their traditional black niqabs.
The song seems lighthearted, but its lyrics make a sharp point. “Hwages” — which roughly translates as “concerns” — is based on an older folk song, which features lyrics such as “may all men sink into oblivion.” In 2014, a video of niqab-wearing women dancing in a silly manner to the song went viral in the Arab world.
The new video, however, takes the political message a step further.
Perhaps the most obvious reference comes at the start of the video, when the women pile into the back of an SUV while a young boy takes the wheel. In Saudi Arabia, of course, women are largely prohibited from driving and are unable to obtain driving licenses. Although some women, especially members of Bedouin communities and those in the southern provinces, do drive anyway, the issue has become a touchstone for women's rights in the country.
The video also emphasizes the hypocrisy of disapproving Saudi men, who can drive freely and travel abroad as they wish. There are also references to President-elect Donald Trump, who leads what the video refers to as a “House of Men.”
“Hwages” has earned high praise from some parts of the Saudi establishment. Shortly after the video was released Dec. 23, Amera al-Taweel, the 33-year-old ex-wife of prominent Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, shared the video on her Twitter account. Later, one of the oldest newspapers in the country, Al-Bilad, offered its own praise for the video, noting that “the new generation of women is different from the past.”
On social media, many praised the song.
— Rawan S. Alawaji (@Rawan___as) December 27, 2016
The video is just the latest big viral success for Esa and 8ies Studios. Late last year, he released a video called “Barbs” — “untidy” or “messy” in a Saudi dialect — which launched a huge dance craze in the Arab world, even leading to the arrest of two in Abu Dhabi who uploaded a video of their own that showed them dancing in military uniform. That video has been viewed almost 38 million times.
Sheikha Aldosary in Riyadh contributed to this report.
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