Palestinian-Chilean Artist Elyanna Won’t Stop Advocating for Her People

Photo: Bethany Vargas.
“Seeing everything that has been happening in all of these universities in the U.S., I just want to say how proud I am to see our generation speak their mind. You guys inspire me. Thank you,” Palestinian-Chilean artist Elyanna told a crowd of Brown University students during her performance at the annual student-led Spring Weekend concert on April 21. 
“I will always speak for my people,” the 22-year-old singer-songwriter tells Refinery29 Somos during a Zoom call in April, ahead of her college performance. “That's something that comes [naturally] to me every day of my life. It comes with a lot of challenges, but I will always continue to do that.” At Coachella in 2023, Elyanna — born Elian Marjieh — made history as the first artist to perform an entire set in her native language of Arabic. Her historic performance garnered her more recognition as an artist, leading her to this very breakthrough moment. 
Since April, amid the now eight-month long Israel-Hamas war, university students in over two dozen schools across the country have taken to protesting and encamping in solidarity with Palestine to get their schools to break direct and indirect ties with Israel.
Since Hamas' October 7, 2023 attack at the Supernova music festival near kibbutz Re'im, killing approximately 1,200 people and taking 250 people hostage, the Israeli military has invaded and bombarded the Gaza Strip, killing more than 36,000 people, including children, and wounding more than 77,000.
As global resistance movements call for a ceasefire — and the backing of a US-led global ceasefire proposal from the UN Security Council — many of the student protesters believe the United States government, which supplies arms to Israel, has done little to stop the war and civilian killings.
“I never toured before Coachella. I wasn’t ever really on stage like that before then,” she states. “It was the first time I did a show [this big].” Since then, she has analyzed every performance; she replays them, critiquing what she could’ve done better, especially after her first sold-out U.S. tour. “It taught me so much,” she adds. “I did that for my tour. I did that for my music. I do that for everything. I look back at what I created, and I want to improve it. It's been very exciting being on tour.” 

"I will always speak for my people. That's something that comes [naturally] to me every day of my life. It comes with a lot of challenges, but I will always continue to do that."

When it comes to her artistry, the rising star is a perfectionist, and she is keen on keeping it that way as she continues to live out her dreams. Originally, her North American tour was going to start in late 2023, but she decided to push it back. “My heart hurts with everything going on in my homeland. I have decided to postpone my tour until further notice. … I wish peace among my people,” she said in an Instagram post on October 26, 2023. Toward the end of November, she announced her U.S. and Canada tour would take place in January 2024 with “all the proceeds from my tour merchandise [going] towards helping the children of Gaza.”
Even as a child, Elyanna felt destined to make her mark as an artist, but that dream didn’t always feel attainable. Growing up in Nazareth, she didn’t see many people making a career out of their art, so the idea seemed almost impossible. Despite this, she continued to work toward everything she hoped would happen, like recently making her TV debut on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, where she became the first artist to sing in Arabic on the program. “My family and friends always knew I wanted to be an artist,” she says. “To everyone, it felt so unreal. But I know this is what I'm meant to do. It was never something that was like, 'I just love to sing.' It was always deeper than that. For me, I had a drive naturally.” 
Coming from an artistic family was instrumental in this desire to pursue music; it also served as motivation and inspiration for her vision. Her grandfather was a singer and a zajal poet; her mother is a writer; her brother is a producer and musician (both her mom and brother are songwriters on her latest project); and her sister is a wardrobe stylist. 
She grew up listening to jazz music as well as Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, Lana Del Rey, Fairuz, and Julio Iglesias. Her Palestinian and Chilean cultures also play a huge role in her work. “I grew up in Palestine so a lot of the time I think [some of my] inspiration comes from being in Palestinian weddings and listening to my grandpa's singing, listening to authentic songs by Abdel Halim Hafez,” she says. “So all these things have different influences on me, even like traveling to Chile. My grandma has an amazing taste in music, and she always used to introduce me to new songs in Spanish, and I always tried to sing them.”
Photo: Adam Kudeimati.
There was never any disconnect when it came to navigating both her Palestinian and Chilean cultures growing up. She traveled annually to Chile to visit her family in Viña del Mar. “I love my Latine side a lot,” she adds. “I really adapted to both cultures naturally. I love the fact that I was able to include that in my music, include that in my album, include that in my style, and my clothes. I'm just proud of both cultures.”
Adjusting to U.S. culture, however, was a different story. As her brother, Feras, encouraged her to practice her craft, she remained consistent in releasing covers of herself singing on SoundCloud, which helped her grow her online presence. At the age of 15, she and her family moved to San Diego then to Los Angeles to take her career to the next level. After getting discovered by industry titans in 2018, Grammy-winning producer Nasri Atwheh introduced her to Head of A&R at Universal Arabic Group Massari and music executive Wassim “Sal” Slaib — both equally fascinated by her voice — she went on to sign a record deal with Universal Arabic Music in 2021. At the time, she was singing mostly in English, but Nasri later advised her to sing in Arabic instead. This wasn’t part of Elyanna’s original plan, but she understood that doing so could solidify her global dominance. 
As she changed strategies, she navigated a new country. “I'm still definitely getting used to everything here, but I always say wherever my family is, wherever the people I love are — that's home to me. So I am just happy to be here. I'm happy to create here and get inspired by Los Angeles.” 
Her debut album, WOLEDTO, created in her living room alongside her brother and mother and released on April 12, is a testament to how hard she has worked to be in this moment. “I feel like I found this new layer of myself and my sound and who I really am as an artist on this project,” she explains. “Of course, I'm very proud of my previous EPs, but I feel like this album just enhanced my sound even more. It’s very free. It really defines who I am. I want it to feel free. I’m writing songs that mean something to me.” 

"I love my Latine side a lot. I really adapted to both cultures naturally. I love the fact that I was able to include that in my music, include that in my album, include that in my style, and my clothes. I'm just proud of both cultures."

Being intentional has always been imperative for Elyanna. On the nine-track, full-length project, which includes no features aside from her grandfather in “Sad in Pali,” she exudes confidence as she seamlessly blends Arabic pop, jazz elements, and R&B. Bridging English and Arabic allows her to further cultivate a sound of her own. A cinematic track, “Sad in Pali” is also the longest song on the album. She and her brother wrote it while visiting other family members in Palestine in 2022. “My brother and I felt very disconnected — we were sad in Palestine. Everyone around us, it felt very different. So we wrote that song there. And, of course, I never wrote a song back home so it felt very unreal to write [it there],” she says.
The idea to include her late grandfather's vocals in the intro came about when her family sent her a video of him singing at a wedding. “He was an amazing singer. My brother and I took that video and we sampled it in the ‘Sad in Pali’ song,” Elyanna says. “Every time that part comes on, I get really emotional.” 
For this project to come to fruition the way she envisioned it required patience. It took two years for the album to come together. “I didn't want to settle when it came to the music,” she says. “I wanted something that felt real and right. I had a very specific sound I was looking for in the production and in the lyrics, ones that fit me, things that I want to say, for real and even melodically like, in every aspect.”
While she lives through a significant moment in her career, her homeland is under attack. Witnessing the massacres occurring in Gaza has been devastating. “I try my best to help as much as I can with my art, and I try my best to help as much as I can,” she adds. “I try to introduce the world to our culture, about everything back home, about our struggles. I want to show all sides of it. It's the reality and it's the truth.” 
Photo: Adam Kudeimati.
Her song “Olive Branch” is an ode to Palestine and a dedication to her people. “They're getting hurt, and it's very hard to see all these things. I pray for them every day. I can't wait to visit back home and help as much as we can. I will always, always push for Palestine, and always push for Nazareth, and push where I come from. It's the holy land.” On June 9, at the Governor’s Ball main stage in Queens, New York, Elyanna took the stage to sing her track “Olive Branch.” Behind her were graphics that read “All Eyes on Rafah” while fans in the audience held Palestinian flags and cheered her on.
In Palestinian history and present-day culture, an olive tree has material and spiritual meaning. Its branches are a symbol of peace and prosperity. For Elyanna, it is a priority to create more music that centers her people being hurt and losing their lives in Gaza. “This is a priority for me to talk about where I come from, to talk about my people. I can't wait to achieve what I want to achieve to be able to help as much as I can back home,” she says. “They're on my mind every day and all the time. So no matter where I get, I'm always going to write songs about Palestine. I'm always going to talk about Palestine. That's my home.”
As she gets ready to continue her festival run with Lollapalooza next and Osheaga in Montreal, Elyanna thinks about the future and hopes to see herself where people don’t expect her to be. “As an Arab artist, a lot of people have really low expectations when it comes to our craft: ‘Oh, she sings in Arabic.’ There's a lot of limitations. I have this huge belief that I'll be able to get where I need to be by being who I am and what I represent — I don't want to change that for anyone. I'm committed to my sound. I'm committed to who I am,” she states. She wants to reach milestones that no other international Arabic artist has reached, and she’s adamant that it can happen, especially seeing the way fellow Latine music artists have popped off globally and organically. “I feel like it's time to do that. Just like how Latin music did, just like a lot of artists that I'm so inspired by that we were able to break all these limitations. I want to get to that.” 
Like these artists, she also wants to start making Spanish-language songs. “I'm learning Spanish now. I am still learning a lot about both cultures, even in Palestine, there's so much I'm still learning, and I want to continue to learn and know more about Chile and Palestine and get inspired by them and include them in my vision,” she adds. “I want to be able to speak the language and like to think it and understand it when I'm singing it. So it’s definitely something I'm looking forward to.”

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