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Palestinian Chilean singer Elyanna intends to sing entire set in Arabic at Coachella

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Coachella Music Festival attracts some of the biggest names in pop music to Indio, Calif. This weekend, two of the biggest superstars in the world will perform Spanish-language sets - Bad Bunny and Rosalia. But another artist is bringing something crowds there may never have experienced before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANA LAHALE")

ELYANNA: (Singing in Arabic).

FADEL: Her name is Elyanna, and on Saturday, she'll perform a set entirely in Arabic. She's Palestinian and Chilean, and she grew up in Nazareth, where she was discovered by her brother.

ELYANNA: He listened to me singing an Adele song, and he was so blown away, he told my mom, like, come, you should listen to her sing. And from that day, we really worked very hard to improve every day.

FADEL: Now Elyanna is on the verge of breaking big in the global market. She moved to the States a few years ago, and she thought she'd be singing in English, just like her idols Adele and Beyonce and Etta James. Her mentor, Nasri Atweh, had other ideas.

ELYANNA: The first time we met, I sang for him, and then he said, well, I want you to sing in Arabic. And if I want to make music for you, you're going to sing in Arabic. And I left home crying, honestly. I'm like, I don't think I can do it, you know what I mean? Like, it's not something I'm used to. It's - I think it's beautiful how all these amazing Arab artists sing. But it's not my style. It's not who I am. So we started making this music in Arabic, and it sounded so unique. And I'm like, OK, let me do something new. Let me do something that I've never heard before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GHAREEB ALAY")

ELYANNA: (Singing in Arabic).

It's a blend of my Chilean inside. It's a blend of my Arabic side. It's a blend of some jazz. It's a blend of everything. It's - for example, like, a song like "Ghareeb Alay"...

FADEL: Oh, I love that song.

ELYANNA: Thank you. This is, like - you know, this is a reggae beat, you know? But we - I sang in Arabic, and I rapped in Arabic. And I think the fusion between all these styles is what makes the sound super unique and special.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GHAREEB ALAY")

ELYANNA: (Singing in Arabic).

FADEL: But then you also - I was listening to your cover of "Ahwak," which is a super-classic Arabic, most famous song of an Egyptian icon...

ELYANNA: Of course.

FADEL: ...Abdel Halim Hafez.

ELYANNA: Right. Yeah. I mean, "Ahwak" is a - is such a beautiful song. I just like to give my touch. It was very simple, very raw. And I think that's why it's so beautiful and real.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AHWAK")

ELYANNA: (Singing in Arabic).

FADEL: You talked about how your family really supported your singing. And you grew up in a family of poets. Did that influence your love of music? What was that like, growing up in a family of poets?

ELYANNA: You know, it's actually very unique. My mom - she's an incredible writer, and I think she got her talent from my my grandpa, an amazing singer. He's a zajal singer. He had a beautiful voice, and he was an amazing writer. He was a poet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Arabic).

(CHEERING)

ELYANNA: And I think that definitely inspired me because, you know, when we started, like, making music, I started writing with my mom. That's such a - you know, a unique thing. Every time I say that to somebody, they're like, what? Like, that's crazy, you know?

FADEL: You grew up in a Palestinian town singing English music. Then you moved to Los Angeles to sing Arabic music...

ELYANNA: It's crazy.

FADEL: ...And here you are.

(LAUGHTER)

FADEL: And here you are about to perform at Coachella fully in Arabic.

ELYANNA: Right. Right.

FADEL: What's that feel like?

ELYANNA: No, I - it feels crazy. I feel like it's such a - like, a - it's a big movement for our culture. I always say that when you're an immigrant, you get really, really attached to your culture more than ever, you know what I mean? So when I moved, I feel like I figured out who I am, and I figured out how beautiful our culture is. And I just wanted to embrace it the whole time. I want to show people a new culture that - I feel like, you know, a lot of cultures, like Latin, Spanish, you hear them everywhere, and you don't understand everything, but it's so beautiful how international it is. So it's, like - it's not necessarily you have to understand what I'm saying, but it's all about the emotions and how it makes you feel.

FADEL: There's a lot of talk among Arabic music watchers about maybe right now is that moment for Arabic music that Latin music has had - you know? - artists that are global superstars that sing in the language of their region. And every story mentions you, Elyanna. Every - you're at the center of this conversation. What does that say about who you are and where Arabic music is going?

ELYANNA: I'm just very honored for all the love. And that means that, you know, it's a big confirmation for what we're doing and the movement we're doing. When I started, I had no example. I did not see an Arabic artist in America singing in Arabic. That was never there. So it's taking a risk, you know? And I think that Arabic music is so authentic. It's beautiful. I always say our instruments are crazy. The Arabic scale is crazy - the dancing, the coins, the embroidery, all of it. It needs to be out there. People need to see it.

FADEL: A lot of people are wondering who's going to be the Arab Bad Bunny, like the person that's going to be the global superstar of that genre. Is that going to be you?

ELYANNA: I mean, let's see. I mean, I'll know that I'll be working as hard as I can to get where I want to be.

FADEL: And your latest single is "Sokkar." It's about life getting sweeter.

ELYANNA: Exactly. That - just - I don't want no drama. I just want to have fun and, like, live my life 'cause life is just getting better and better.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOKKAR")

ELYANNA: (Singing in Arabic).

FADEL: Elyanna - she'll be singing a full set in Arabic at one of the biggest music festivals in the U.S., Coachella, this weekend and next weekend.

FADEL: Congratulations, mabrouk, and have so much fun.

ELYANNA: Thank you. (Speaking Arabic). Appreciate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOKKAR")

ELYANNA: (Singing in Arabic). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.