Her green eyes and full apple cheeks may remind of a younger Gigi Hadid, but her mane of golden blonde curls offers another, wilder aura altogether. At only 18, Palestinian-Chilean Elian Amer Marjiya, alias Elyanna, is a one-to-watch singer and songwriter, with a voice likened to Rihanna’s and a sensuality that reminds of Shakira.
Elyanna recalls singing for the first time at home with her family when she was seven. The song was by Adele, and her first fan was her brother Feras. “It sparked a vision in his mind and he was determined to help me reach my full potential as an artist,” she recalls. “My family has been instrumental throughout my journey thus far,” she says, adding that musical influences like Fayrouz, Beyoncé, The Weeknd, and Freddie Mercury, also helped set the foundation for her singing style.
“My first impression of Elyanna was that she was an incredibly talented vocalist and the true definition of a diamond in the rough,” recalls Lebanese singer Massari, who features on Elyanna’s eponymous debut EP, released by Empire record label. “Elyanna has a natural ability to adapt to different genres and styles,” he continues. “Some of her songs are full of emotion and depth with a crisp delivery, while others are upbeat with lots of energy and powerful melodies.”
Elyanna was discovered on Instagram at 15 by Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Nasri and soon thereafter by Massari and Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, who manages The Weeknd. They joined forces, with both Nasri and Massari serving as her mentors. The California-based singer explains that the ethos behind her choosing to sing in Arabic is her way to harmoniously bridge East and West. “I’m challenged by unifying both of the worlds I exist in,” she comments, fully conscious that from her standpoint in Los Angeles, she is breaking out into unknown territory. “Having Arabic and American cultures reflected in my music is what allows me to create a new genre,” she says. “I am proud that my sound represents our culture in a unique way that many have not heard before.
Of her songwriting, she offers, “I’ve come to learn that the best way to write songs is to compose from the heart.” Her lyrics explore notions of identity and separation. Elyanna sometimes puts pen to paper with her mother, and reveals that their ideas come from profound and intimate conversations. She also writes with Nasri, Massari, and her brother. “I appreciate having a talented team that pushes me to be the best version of myself,” she says. The rising artist points to Massari, who joins her on her latest single, “Ana Lahale.” Of their amity, she admits to being particularly drawn to the artist’s humble side and loyalty to his Lebanese roots and culture.
As for Elyanna’s personal and on-stage personas, they are one and the same. She is both comfortable and stylish in clothes with a retro vibe and is often in jeans and a cropped T-shirt, with a bandana holding her hair off her face. “I want to focus my energy on the performance,” she says, adding with a wink, “Honestly, I just don’t like wearing heels.”
Originally published in the May 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia
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