The Truth about Sweet HayaH
by Amanda Lynn
San Jose City College
“The truth about life is that there is no certainty. She can be your best friend or your worst enemy,” croons Nehal Abuelata of the San Jose-based band Sweet HayaH. Her body writhes to the rich rhythms of the 6-piece band as her lush vocals enthrall the audience at Little Lou’s BBQ in Campbell. It is impossible to look away, nor would I want to. Sweet HayaH’s music has a way of getting into your soul and never letting go.
Prior to seeing Sweet HayaH perform, I had heard only positive things about this high energy funk/world/ska band from local musicians, Facebook, and the local media. It seemed that the band was one of the busiest in the bay area, playing 3-5 shows every single week.
After her set, Abuelata laughingly offers sweaty hugs to anyone who wants one. I take this opportunity to grab a hug and a free sticker. She was right – her hugs are genuinely sweaty, but hers is nice. I then ask her if she has time to answer a few questions. She invites me on a ride along to a radio appearance in Santa Cruz. We meet up with her guitarist and co-songwriter, Devin Moreno, and her manager, Gary Greenberg, in Willow Glen. She is dressed as Wonder Woman and Moreno is dressed as The Falcon from the Avengers.
As we ride in the car, Abuelata is all smiles as I ask her to describe a typical day in her life. Like most people, she gets up at 6:00am and works a regular corporate job. After hours, there is hours of band practice, performances, or band promotional work, squeezing in a small break here and there to grab something to eat. She expresses her gratitude to her manager, Greenberg, for taking responsibility of the booking. I ask her to estimate how many shows she has done in the last year. She explains that despite taking a three month sabbatical to sing in France last summer, her band has played 130-150 shows in the last year, sometimes two or three in a single day.
“If I had my way, we’d play every day,” Abuelata jokes. “But seriously, we could play Thursday through Sunday, practice Tuesday, and take Monday and Wednesday off. Are you cool with that, Devin?” He nods.
She then drops that bomb that she never thought she’d ever be a musician.
“I played piano for fun. I only started singing five years ago,” said Abuelata. “I did theater for a while. I really wanted to be an actress. Or a pictorial artist. Or a sculptor.”
Prior to forming Sweet HayaH, she sang solo in restaurants and open mics for about year until meeting future bandmates Devin Moreno and Josh Gardner at an open mic at Britannia Arms in 2011. She credits participating in many open mics for helping her get over stage fright. When Abuelata saw Moreno and Gardner jam for the first time, she was in awe of their chemistry and how approachable they were.
According to Moreno, “She was just great. She had a great voice and we played really well off of each other.”
I then ask the two songwriters about their musical influences. Moreno is inspired by Arctic Monkeys, Stephen Marley, The Black Keys, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, or anything funky. His local music influences include Melted State, Reggie Boy Junior, and The Free Radicals for showing them how a band should play. Abuelata seconds Moreno’s mention of Melted State, adding in that Noah Kibreab of Melted State is an amazing person, in addition to being a talented singer and guitarist. I ask what songs they love to cover.
“Proud Mary is definitely song that I think Sweet HayaH could really do well with… and Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix, just because I really like the lyrics.” Abuelata says.
Sweet HayaH has no shortage of material. After three years together as a band, the group has written 33 original songs for two EPs and one full length album. Last week they recorded a new single “Pack Up”, a song about having enough and moving on. Recording and songwriting has been an evolutionary process for the band. Originally, Abuelata or Moreno would present complete melodies or songs for the band to flesh out. As time went on, other members would collaborate with their own ideas. Eventually, the emerging sound could only be attributed to the band as a whole.
As we approached the radio station, I had time to ask one final question regarding plans for the future. The band plans to tour Florida and Georgia in November. According to Greenberg, the band is set to make new connections, play more festivals, and possibly tour the East coast. Moreno and Abuelata hope to recruit a producer for recording a new album in 2015. While Moreno would like a new van for the band, Abuelata has her sights on expanding the band to include a full horn section and backup vocals.
Lastly, I ask if Abuelata has any final words for her fans. “For all the people that come out to shows, I am so grateful…Keep coming out to shows… You make me feel good, I’ll make you feel even better,” she says.
Although the truth about life is that there is no certainty, Abuelata and her Sweet HayaH band seems destined for bigger and better things. Visit SweetHayah.com for the latest news and tour dates.