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This cover of The Beatles' 'Drive My Car' celebrates Saudi women's new right to drive

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Recently, the comedian James Corden featured the legendary musician Paul McCartney on his popular Late Late Show segment, "Carpool Karaoke."

The recurring segment features famous musicians joining Corden in a car while they sing along to the musician’s hits. To the delight of viewers around the globe, McCartney sang songs from The Beatles, including “Drive My Car."

Now, it’s doubtful they had Saudi Arabia on their minds when they wheeled out that Beatles classic. But a couple of months ago, both that country and that song were on the minds of many around the world.

That's because Saudi Arabia was on the verge of allowing women to drive for the first time ever. It was going to a big moment of freedom for women — the kind of moment that deserves a song. And maybe that song could be some version of The Beatles' "Drive My Car."

So we called up Berklee College of Music in Boston and asked a friend of The World there if he knew of any students who could give The Beatles a maqam treatment and perhaps even rewrite the song in Arabic.

Understanding, of course, that’s no small order. But you'd be surprised what can happen at Berklee.

We managed to pull together a talented group of students for the recording. On qanun, Tony Barhoum, who's Palestinian; Tariq Rantisi, also Palestinian, is on percussion; Layth Sidiq, from Jordan, performs on violin; and Jared Henderson, from Oregon, is on bass.

Also in the group were Naseem Alatrash, the cellist, composer and arranger, and Nano Raies, the singer, composer and songwriter.

Raies is from Syria. She fled the fighting in Homs a few years ago. Alatrash, who is also the bandleader, is Palestinian.

For Raies and Alatrash, the project seemed a little bizarre. Not so much for Alatrash, who learned to appreciate The Beatles when his home in the Palestinian territories finally got internet access a few years ago.

“I remember when we first got internet, I was maybe, 11, 12,” Alatrash said. “And I was so excited about just, like, hacking the phone of the house and going online. And when YouTube first came out, as a musician, I was always on YouTube, and I remember the song I heard first was, 'Hey Jude' [also by The Beatles]. And throughout my teenage years it was one of my favorite tracks. Until now, I still love that song.”

"Drive My Car" might seem like an odd choice for Saudi women who will be free to drive their own cars. The lyrics say: "Asked a girl what she wanted to be/she said baby can't you see/I wanna be famous a star on the screen/but you can do something in between/baby you can drive my car..."

Singer Nano Raies initially thought the song was sexist.

“When I heard it at first and I read the words I thought that it was very sexist,” Raies said. “And then when I read the real meaning, yeah, of course, it’s nice. It's not sexist at least.”

True. The woman in the song is actually empowered: She tells the man that if he really wants to help her out, he should be her chauffeur when she's a star.

To pull off this remake, we challenged Raies to write it from a different point of view — from a Saudi woman's point of view.

The “Drive My Car” remake is called “Rahsoul Say-arah,” which in Arabic means. "I will drive the car." It's a statement of fact, according to Raies.

“For the translation to the song, I feel like it's a really simple, funny, kind of goofy message,” Alatrash said.

“And the main idea is that this female was singing, just got the ability to drive, she’s really excited and at this moment of her life she really doesn’t care about anything else. She’s getting all these proposals from men. They are promising her all these things. But, she’s like, at the moment, I just want to drive. Maybe later I will love you, maybe later I will think about these things, but at the moment I just want to drive this car.”

These young, talented musicians haven't come up with a name for their group, so we’ll just call them Nano and the 6-2-4, in honor of the date when Saudi women took the wheel.

The band came to the performance studio at WGBH not long ago and laid down the track. But as far as its significance to these music students, many from the Middle East, Alatrash said it was a big moment for Saudi Arabia.

“For me as a Palestinian, I grew up with this longing for peace and longing for freedom," Alatrash said.

“I’ve never in my life experienced freedom before coming to the US and experiencing what it feels like to be able to drive somewhere without being stopped and asked for certain documentation. And driving a car is a basic thing to live in dignity. Some obstacles in the Middle East, they are coming from outside influence. But, some are problems that we have to face and we have to solve on our own. And it always starts from within. So I believe that it’s a very important and very big moment for Saudi Arabia and hopefully for the entire region.”

(Additional writing by Steven Davy.)

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“Drive My Car" (John Lennon and Paul McCartney) — Nano and the 6-2-4. Nano Raies, voice; Naseem Alatrash, cello, music director; Layth Sidiq, violin; Tony Barhoum, qanun; Jared Henderson, bass; Tariq Rantisi, percussion.

Recorded May 17, 2018, in WGBH’s Fraser Performance Studio.

Recording and Mix Engineer for WGBH:

Robin Moore

Assistant Engineer:

Andres Gonzalez.

Video Production:

Jeannie Greeley Audrey Harrer Kevin Greene, camera; Angel Irizarry, camera; Peter Xiong, camera.

Executive Producers for Berklee:

Rob Hayes and Michael Borgida

Arabic lyrics by Nano Raies.

Special thanks for lyric input by Hussam jefee-Bahloul.

(Here are the lyrics in English and Arabic:)

"Drive my car" "رح سوق السيارة"

Verse:

قالي واحد شو بدي كون

قلتلو حبيبي شو ما فيك عيون

بحب كون مشهورة و عالتلفزيون

بس انت فيك تعمل شي بالمعقول

Chorus:

حبيبي رح سوق السيارة

ايه والله رح صير مشهورة

حبيبي رح سوق السيارة

و يمكن حبك

Verse:

قالي واحد انا ابن حلال

قلتلو حبيبي ما بيهمني المال

ولا بيت و لا أهل و لا عيال

بس ما فيي اعطيك السيارة

Chorus:

حبيبي رح سوق السيارة

ايه والله رح صير مشهورة

حبيبي رح سوق السيارة

و يمكن حبك

Peep peep peep peep

Chorus:

Baby I can drive my car

Yes I'm gonna be a star

Baby I can drive my car

And maybe I love you

Verse:

قالي واحد ايمت بطلب إيدك

قلتلو حبيبي فهمانة عليك

الشباب متلتل و عالإشارة

بس ما ممكن أعطيك السيارة

Chorus:

حبيبي رح سوق السيارة

ايه والله رح صير مشهورة

حبيبي رح سوق السيارة

و يمكن حبك

Peep peep peep peep

Chorus:

حبيبي رح سوق السيارة

ايه والله رح صير مشهورة

حبيبي رح سوق السيارة

و يمكن حبك

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