Beatles Remake to Mark End of Saudi Ban on Women Drivers

Berklee teamed up with WGBH to record a new version of the song "Drive My Car" as Saudi women are granted the right to drive. 

June 22, 2018

As recently as a few years ago, Saudi Arabia was one of two countries in which women couldn’t vote and the only place where they couldn’t drive. In 2015, the kingdom ended the voting ban and this month it starts issuing drivers’ licenses to women.

Ten women received their licenses June 4 and the prohibition will be fully lifted on Sunday, June 24. In recognition of this historic event, PRI’s The World partnered with Berklee to celebrate with song.

The team took the Beatles’ tune "Drive My Car" and reworked it with Arabic lyrics and instrumentation. The new version tells the story of a woman who’s in love with her newly granted freedom, and feels that marriage and family can wait. She sings, "Baby, I can drive my car/Yes, I’m gonna be a star/Baby I can drive my car/And maybe I’ll love you."

Naseem Alatrash B.M. '15, M.M. '17, who wrote the musical arrangement, says that as a Palestinian, he was used to being stopped and asked for documents when he drove in his homeland, so he sympathized with the disrespect many Saudi women felt under the ban. "Driving a car is a basic thing to live in dignity," Alatrash said in an interview with Marco Werman of PRI’s The World.

When rearranging the piece, Alatrash kept the energy and, well, drive of the original while lending it an unmistakably Middle Eastern character. To do this, he swapped out the Beatles’ piano, drums, guitar, and electric bass for the qanun, cello, violin, double bass, and Arabic percussion instruments, incorporating that culture’s melodic aspects, ornaments, and microtones. He also ditched the guitar solo for a traditional Arabic improvisational interlude.

Student vocalist Nano Raies, of Syria, worked in a similar way, writing lyrics that would approximate the original’s rhythmic pattern and rhyming scheme but that would be Middle Eastern in language and content.

Six alumni—Alatrash on cello; Raies on vocals; Jordanian Layth Sidiq B.M. '14, M.M. '16, on violin; Palestinian Tony Barhoum B.M. '18 on qanun; American Jared Henderson on bass; and Palestinian Tariq Rantisi B.M. '11 on percussion—recorded an accompanying video at WGBH’s studios in May. The song was mixed by WGBH’s Robin Moore.

Watch the musicians perform "Drive My Car":

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