INTERVIEW: Palestinian-Chilean Singer Elyanna Talks Being the Face of Arabic Pop

Photo by Yasmine Kateb.

Belly dance sequins, big curly hair, and bandanas filled the stage, while Palestinian scarfs, flags, and fans filled the crowd for Arabic pop artist Elyanna’s last show of her sold-out U.S. tour. Emotions were high — both on and off stage — with tears flowing while the Palestina-Chilena sang “Olive Branch. For most fans in the audience, this was the first time hearing the full song live as she performed it with her brother and co-producer Feras on the piano. She released this powerful single in late October 2023 on her social media accounts in light of the crisis in Gaza and as a way to announce the postponement of her tour due to the attacks. “I dedicate this tour to the Arab diaspora… We are the voice of freedom and art,” Elyanna wrote online

At just 22 years old, Elyanna has mastered the seamless weaving of her identity and convictions into her art. Her journey to fearless artistry began long before the big move to the U.S. at 15 to California from her Palestinian hometown of Nazareth to pursue music. Elyanna’s love for the art form is deeply rooted in a family of artists. Her Chilean abuela is a pianist, her mother is a writer, and her grandfather is a Zajal (Lebanese folk sung poetry) singer and poet. At an early age, Elyanna became a fan of jazz queens Etta James and Aretha Franklin but also grew up listening to Arabic legends like Umm Kalthum, with splashes of Spanish music consistently. 

Every Christmas growing up, I would visit my big family in Vina Del Mar,” she shares with Remezcla. “Whenever I would go, I would hear reggaeton, which is super dancy, super sexy. Then, my [paternal] grandmother [had] good taste in music. So I would listen to classics like Julio Iglesias — I’m a big fan of Julio!”

Recording covers and making them her own, like her work on the iconic Egyptian artist Abdel Halim Hafez’s “Ahwak,” was just the beginning of Elyanna’s rise to fame. Her debut original release of “Oululee Leh” in 2019 immediately caught people’s attention. But “Ana Lahale” featuring Massari, now the head of A&R at Universal Arabic Music, made a lasting impression in 2020. She soon began to go viral and grow a larger following on social media, which all led to Elyanna making history at Coachella 2023 when she became the first performer in the festival’s history to sing entirely in Arabic. She opened a door for other Palestinian and Arabic singing artists. This year, Saint Levant took the stage at the same festival, dedicating his performance to standing in solidarity with the people of Gaza. 

However, Elyanna’s vision hasn’t always been to take over the industry this way. In a recent interview with Vogue Arabia, the songstress revealed that being asked to sing in Arabic during her first studio session was a turning point in her career, so much so that she cried on the way home. When I moved to the U.S., I didn’t expect to sing in Arabic. It was never a part of my plan,” she clarifies. “But every step has been a journey towards finding my voice.” 

After realizing that Arabic sounds and artists had yet to make it to the global stage, she set a goal to raise the bar for music in her mother tongue. “Sometimes, when there’s this empty field, I want to make sure that I run in it and do as much as I can to put it on that next level,” she says. The artists’ focus on Arabic pop flows with the natural evolution of the Arabic-speaking population of the U.S., which has increased almost 600 percent since 1980.

When I moved to the U.S., I didn’t expect to sing in Arabic. It was never a part of my plan. But every step has been a journey towards finding my voice.

Fast-forward to 2024, and she’s becoming the contemporary and future sound of Arabic pop. Fresh off the successful Elyanna Tour, which sold out in 10 cities — she released her debut album Woledto, just last month. Despite it building on her quest to spread Arabic pop globally, this album symbolizes an artistic rebirth for her. “My new album [Woledto] reflects my growth as an artist and it showcases a blend of my cultural background and influences that have shaped me — definitely a lot more Spanish music influence,” she explains. 

But just because her tour is over doesn’t mean fans won’t get to experience Woledto live. Elyanna will be participating in a few festivals and shows this summer. She is set to headline landmark shows in Los Angeles and London and is scheduled to perform at Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Osheaga, and more. 

As Elyanna continues to expand her art, she looks forward to connecting with others globally, who also cannot be restricted to just one identity. “At the end of the day, I’m an immigrant and come from a lot of different backgrounds,” she reflects. 

“I know there are a lot of people around the world who also have this beautiful challenge of connecting to just one thing. So this new chapter is about connecting with all of me and hopefully inspiring others to connect with all of themselves too.”