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The Night That Elyanna Took Over KOKO

Images Credit: Tariq Manshi

A Risen Icon From Nazareth- A Background On Elyanna

At just 22 years old, Palestinian-Chilean artist Elian Marjieh (who goes by the stage name ‘Elyanna’) has the whole world ahead of her! Elyanna signed for the label SALXCO back in 2019, which was co-founded by; The Weeknd, his manager Wassim ‘Sal’ Slaiby and the rest of the Canadian pop stars team. She also joined the newly formed Universal Arabic Music group, established by Sal, and promises to set ripples across the globe.

The Nazareth-born singer didn’t bask in the glory of this initial triumph, as she announced herself onto the scene with two self-titled personal works. Off the back of this, Elyanna achieved a historical feat by performing at Coachella and being the first artist EVER to perform a full set in Arabic! To think how far we’ve come as a society that if you walked down the street twenty years ago and spoke in Arabic you could be put on a watch list (especially in the US) and now Elyanna recites her beautiful melodies out in the open. This monumental precedent set by Elyanna has exposed the globe to a uniquely blended pallet of excellent Arabic music and Chilean influences. It also paves the way for future Arab artists, who, as Elyanna has proven will bring important cultural value to the European/American music sphere.

Arabic is an ancient language that, coupled with such poetry and intricate meaning, makes each word (let alone sentence) come with the intention of the most truthful expression a human can embody, piercing each fragment of your soul. This poetry quite literally courses through Elyanna’s veins. Her maternal grandfather takes to the stage to enact Zajal (a form of informal/traditional Arabic freestyle poetry) at weddings, and her mother is also a skilled wordsmith. 

Elyanna continues this oral tradition in fashion, with thought-provoking, emotive, and rhythmic songs. She said in an ABC interview ‘she couldn’t imagine singing in Arabic’ when she was younger, but it seems to be the right choice of heart. 

With the recent arrival of her album Woledto (‘I am born’), the crowd awaited the star at the KOKO arena in Camden. I was lucky enough to witness Elyanna’s; poetry in motion, friendly attitude, stunning choreography, and visuals all up close that contributed to showing her powerful and inspiring identity. I had the privilege of interviewing her after the show (at the end of the article).

Warm-Up

I arrived at KOKO around thirty minutes before the doors opened and a large queue had already formed. In their masses, many of the crowd wore Keffiyeh’s (Palestinian scarves) in unison to show solidarity with Palestine, celebrating the artist’s heritage. The crowd wasn’t just an Arab demographic but more diverse, highlighting Elyanna’s music isn’t just for one group but all! On the night I met some Palestinian-Chilean fans representing the cross-cultural dynamic of this amazing community, proud of one of their own.

The opening DJ, Nell Khair, set the crowd alight in preparation for the evening. She knew how to get everyone into the zone by dancing freely, swaying her arms around and letting herself go. Nell played timeless classics from the Arab musical culture like Nour Al Ein (‘Light Of Your Eye’) by Amr Diab and Allah Allah Ya Baba (‘My God My Father’) by Saber Rebai, but also knew how to mix it up playing for the audience popular music like Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’. Her whole groove was wonderful, and she rightly was applauded and cheered off when she played her last track.

A Cinematic Experience – Stage And Atmosphere 

A fan behind me exclaimed ‘I don’t believe this is real’ as Elyanna arrived on stage, her angelic aura and oozing confidence immediately gripped all present. She began to journey us into a different stratosphere, with her warm comforting smile and sublime dance moves illuminating the already-lit stage. Elyanna’s happiness and good vibes were infectious in the best sense of the word, and I couldn’t contain my smile out of sheer admiration for what I was witnessing. Elyanna lives for this!

The born-ready performer interacted with the fans during Sukkar (‘Sugar’), taking selfies with them mid-performance and giving them the mic to sing along. Elyanna then expressed her humble gratitude to those who showed out in Camden, and this was met with tremendous adoration. As a singer who comes from a family of artists, Elyanna naturally became our personal conductor, leading the crowd to sing along to Ghareeb Alay (‘Strange To Me’) and perform Zaghrouta (celebratory sounds heard at Arab weddings), during Mama Eh. This elevated the excitement between the performer and the crowd which stems from the belief Elyanna puts into people. The reason Elyanna is so loved is that she shares her successes with us and in her own words it feels like ‘a movement’ 

The cover star of Vogue Arabia pieced together another visual masterpiece, as fluorescent stage lighting bounced off her white laced dress and light-gold belt, ensuring she was the brightest person in the room. Her dress sense laid the foundation for each song as she wore; a cap, a blindfold, a wedding veil, and an extension on her dress that covered the entire width of the stage. The production of this was nothing short of mesmerising in its storytelling. 

The dancers also contributed immensely to the performance. They were in sync with the lead pop star and their chemistry flowed enormously; helping each other out and directing the audience members. Elyanna’s charisma clearly has a positive influence on her team of dancers, especially the way she glides seamlessly across the stage instilling confidence in them all.

We also got a guest appearance in Sevdaliza joining Elyanna on stage for their recent release Good Torture. Their bond on stage was incredible, both flowing back and forth between each other. Again, Elyanna was just having fun with it, celebrating the femininity and empowering unity between them.

Power Behind The Words- The Music

I was left with goosebumps after a limitless number of profound lyrics that tapped into the audience’s conscience. I will try my best to dissect a few tracks of this prevalent art Elyanna has imagined.

Ghoseyn Zeytoun (‘Olive Branch’) evoked an array of overwhelming emotions as Elyanna sent peace and prayers to her fellow Palestinians. Her vocals were not just off the chart during this song, finding the vocal range of infinity in kaleidoscopic motion as you’re forced to hear her pain in current circumstances. She announces at the end of the song ‘For Palestine’! 

Sad In Pali takes us through a similar rollercoaster of emotions, especially, the lyric ‘You’ve forgotten to remember me and erased our past’ which cuts deeply, a reference to Israel systematically attempting to destroy Palestinian history. Elyanna’s words not only produce feelings of empathy but are empowering, reinforcing a desire for peace thus using her platform to inspire change. Alongside Elyanna, who is unapologetically Palestinian, the audience was united, trying to speak into reality the end of the oppression towards Palestinians.

The words in Al-Sham (‘The Levant’) were silky smooth, a story told to perfection with the lyric ‘a stream without water is life without love’ drawing a parallel to us not being able to exist without what we hold dearest in our heart. Elyanna also lulls us into the acutely worded and blissful Sukkar that follows in this dimension, wishing the world can be as sweet and centred on gratefulness for the blessings we receive. Elyanna manipulates and bends words to her will, embodying a masterful poet.

Other tracks that I was obsessed with were Ganneni (‘Drive Me Crazy’) and ‘Mama Eh’ popular off the new album; they were upbeat and had easy enough choruses to sing along to for the non-Arabic speakers thus making everyone present feel included. Most of all I had been listening to Ana Lahale (‘Alone With My Thoughts’) on repeat leading up to this concert, so when she rocked that on I swear I could have lost it. 

As a young person herself, Elyanna knows how to relate to her audience, so she paid homage to some of the great Arab vocalists of the past in her performance drawing on childhood nostalgia. This included songs such as; Ahwak (‘I Love You’) by Abdel Halim Hafez, Einta Eih (‘What Are You?’) By Nancy Ajram and a mash-up version of Tamally Ma’aak (‘I Am With You’) by Amr Diab (with ‘Calling you by Outlandish). She provided her own spin on these already great tracks and added a piece of grace to them. 

Finale

At the end of the performance, something occurred that I’d never seen before in an audience. After Elyanna left the stage for an ovation that was wholeheartedly deserved, the crowd began to chant ‘free, free, Palestine’ and once it ended everyone cheered each other. This culture of togetherness and love within a shared struggle is distinct in the environment Elyanna fosters and I can only wish to feel a repeat of that special night.

Elyanna can only rise to greater heights, and I was lucky to have seen her first show in the UK as she continues on this transcendent journey towards global stardom.

Set List:

1. Woledto

2. Yallah Ya

3. Ta Ta 

4. Ahwak

5. Ya Waylak

6. Tamally Ma’ak/Calling You

7. Ghoseyn Zeytoun

8. Sukkar

9. Good Torture (with Sevdaliza)

10. Mama Eh

11. Ganeni

12. Al-Sham

13. Lel Ya Lel

14. Ala Bali

15. Yabn El Eh

16. Enta Eih

17.  3 

18. Sad In Pali

19. Ana Lahale 

20. Al Kawn Jani Ma’ak

21. Ghareeb Alay

Interview

I want to mention and say a huge thank you to Kaiya, Jouman and Elissa who are all a part of Elyanna’s team. Without them none of this would have been possible; they are all the most amazing people! Also, a huge thank you to Elyanna for an amazing show and for giving me the time to ask her some questions! 

I will leave you now with the icon herself:

Q1) Hey Elyanna! How have you found London/ the UK since you’ve been down here? Are there any highlights you’ve enjoyed?

📌 “I always love coming to London, but this was definitely my favorite time. The highlight was of course my show at the KOKO! I love performing and this is my first time performing in London and the energy was even better than I imagined. I can’t wait to come back and do it again!!”

Q2) How did you find the crowd at KOKO? You seemed to have really enjoyed it out there.

📌 “The energy was so special, my London Yanna fans are so fun! They were singing everything, and were committed to the Yanna world, they came ready and on theme. I got the chance to meet a lot of my fans, and so many of them told me that they travelled to be there. I’m just so grateful to build a connection with them. I can’t wait to come back here and do more shows.

Q3) What inspired the concept of ‘Woledto’? Are there any moments personally that you drew inspiration from that helped craft these amazing tracks?

📌 “My album ‘ Woledto’ symbolises the rebirth of Elyanna. I uncovered a new layer of my artistry. I felt like I combined my two worlds of being Palestinian and Chilean and brought that to life with the music. I wanted to create something that not only celebrates our culture but also empowers us. My grandfather is the only feature on this album and that makes it so much more special for me. “Woledto” is a journey of identity, love, and rage.”

Q4) Do you realise the impact you’re having on young Arabs and Chileans/the next generation inspiring them to strive for greatness in the performing arts in Western countries? Has that hit you yet? 

Watching you perform at KOKO as a young person with Arab heritage honestly inspired me to want to be great and aim for that level of creativity. I hope you know we’re all so proud of you!

📌 “It’s an honour for me to be considered an inspiration to my generation. I am still learning and exploring a lot, just like you all are! I’m simply inspired by all of you every day. My aim is to always show the world how impactful us Arabs can be. Everything about our culture is so special; from our authentic fashion looks to our instruments and our traditions. I want to show the world who we are and keep these doors open for so many other artists as well. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for everyone who supports me and my fans, so I am eternally grateful to them.

Thank you.”

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