After a few short months that seemed longer than what it was, Lebanese recording and visual artist Dana Hourani is back in full force with a new song. The UAE’s it girl dropped her third single today, an ambient remake of the 1917 folk tune Zuruni that rose to fame when Arab icon Fairuz performed it decades later.
“I took it on as an interest to explore how a classic that is so well known in the Arab world can be reinterpreted and modernized today,” the Sharjah-born artist explained. “It was a little bit of a challenge and risk changing what the region has grown accustomed to and reintroducing it through my own musical DNA.”
Reinventing Fairuz’s “timeless anthem” as her latest song was a “big risk” for Hourani because of the weight and history behind it that resonates not only with her but also the entire region. “Fairuz was the first connection I had with my mom and with music at a very young age. Her songs remind me of a truly beautiful time in my childhood and those are the same songs that are still so popular today. She truly has managed to sing to all age groups and to all life stages one would go through—grief, love, patriotism, youth, nostalgia to name a few.”
However, not one to back down from a challenge, the electronic singer went ahead with the idea amidst a flurry of “what ifs” that usually surrounds Hourani before a release. “Mostly I worry about how people will perceive it, whether they would love it, hate it, or not care for it so much. But, it’s all super exciting. I mean there really is no feeling like this—to put out a body of work that you’ve put your heart and soul into for months. I feel proud of myself mostly, but I also worry a lot.”
From a young age, Hourani had a passion for music that only grew when her uncle began teaching her guitar chords at the age of 12. “I can’t remember a time where I didn’t want to pursue music. I started singing and writing at a very early age, so it was just a matter of getting the right support system to help carry this through in the best possible and most organic way while staying true to the direction I wanted to take. The music industry can be quite challenging, especially trying to maintain a certain work ethos and staying true to my initial vision without having to get caught up in the business side of things.”
Further reminiscing about her childhood, the model-turned-singer fondly remembers the loud mornings when her mom played tunes at full volume during the car ride to school and how the tradition carries on with her toddler, Zoë. “I do the same with my daughter now; our morning music session in the car in full blast is so much fun,” exclaims Hourani. “I hope she grows to be musical too.”
While Hourani grew up listening to mostly indie and soul music from American stars John Mayer, Mariah Carey, and Alanis Morissette—singers whom she credits for teaching her the importance of lyrics from as early as her teenage years—she would also listen to Arab legends such as Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez and, of course, Fairuz because of her parents.
“I wouldn’t say it had a direct impact on the music that I would create,” she explained. “I mainly created English songs at first; it was only until last year that I fully got into Arabic. Today, I believe that it was their influence that was stuck in my subconscious that managed to resurface. It was a natural move, I would say.”
Compared to her debut single, Ella Enta, that has almost 115k hits on YouTube, Zuruni is “stripped down to its simplest form in all aspects”, focusing less on the “production” aspect and more on the “voice and the emotion” of the song. “I believe that I grow and evolve as a musician with each song I do—notably the sound that I’m inclined to gets clearer and more specific. You never stop growing as a musician.”
Although there isn’t one set way of creating music for Hourani, the first step of the creative process that is often an “emotional rollercoaster” is figuring out the message she hopes to convey—“what I want to talk about, the melody that I would like to explore, all really having to do with the state I’m in at that point in time and what I need to express.”
Because her tracks are recorded in Lebanon and she currently lives in Dubai, each song usually takes around two months to complete. However, Hourani isn’t in a rush. Unlike the fast-paced fashion industry the style influencer started her career in—and later explored briefly as a designer—that could sometimes be “overwhelming” because of the pressure to complete project after project, the music industry allows her to be more flexible until she’s 100% satisfied with the final product. “We take our time with it; we set our own deadlines and there is no rush. It’s not about creating as much as we can in a short time, but more about bringing the right vision into life, regardless of the time it takes. And music lasts much longer. A song, unlike a picture, grows exponentially and gradually over time.”
Nevertheless, Hourani combines her passions of modeling and music through her cinematic music videos. Filmed by Jordanian director Banan Alawneh, Zuruni is a “baroque painting in motion” with Hourani appearing as a “tragic, royal-like figure” against a dark backdrop. “I actually love the whole process when creating a music video; there really isn’t anything I least favor because it is one of the most exciting phases of the project as a whole. It’s visually expressing this body of work, and that’s quite exciting,” explained Hourani. “I would say my most favorite step would be the actual filming. Coming from a world of visual communication, it is so important for me to have it compliment my music in the best way possible with the right branding.”
The secret to her success? Her team. “I work with some of the most talented people in the region who I get to call my friends. We work hard, but we also have so much fun in the process creating the best memories through it all.”
Watch the exclusive worldwide release of Zuruni below.