Sultry and sassy sums up multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Zāna, who calls her infectious sound “gypsy pop,” a stylish blend of pop music with Arabic percussive elements.
A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Zāna has written with Grammy Award-winning producers Tim Mitchell and George Noriega.
Her single/music video, “Call Ya,” released at the beginning of 2018, racked up more than 1.4 million views almost overnight, positioning her in the center of the musical radar. The Beauty of Zora, her debut EP, pays homage to her grandmother, tormented by schizophrenia.
Zāna’s latest single, “Nah,” produced by LEFTI, delivers chiding redress to hectoring pushy males, nuisances who ultimately must be abated, because they seem impervious to the meaning of “no.” You can see this come alive in the single’s newly released music video, directed by Kevin McCafferty, and produced by Heidi Segal and Paul Schoenberger.
Intrigued by Zāna’s music and charisma, I sat down with her to find out how she got started in music, what inspires her, and what’s next for her.
How would you describe yourself?
To give a short description: Sultry, strong, vulnerable, exotic, simple, complicated and goofy.
Who is your favorite music artist?
I have so many favorite artists for so many different reasons. So, that is an extremely hard question to answer. One thing I do know is that I will never get tired of listening to Ed Sheeran’s debut album “+.”
How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?
I don’t think there was ever a specific point in my life where I decided that I would be in music. I think everything was just kind of leading me there. Growing up, my parents always had music blasting through the house. It was all sorts of genres and artists, from UB40 to Gipsy Kings to Umm Kulthum to even former Yugoslavian ’80s bands. The list is honestly never-ending. I used to dance around on the dining room table and run through the house with my “tappy shoes.” After tossing my mom’s china plates through the window — not out of it, but through it. The window was not open at the time — and explaining that I liked the sound, my mom realized that I was probably meant to do something in music. Fast forwarding through the mommy and me piano classes she signed us up for, which we (shortly after) got kicked out of due to my excessive slamming on the keys, I then began playing the drum-set at 8-years-old. A bit more fitting for me, I’d say. At the age of 15, I started exploring the musical world more. I picked up guitar, Arabic percussion, singing, songwriting, and even a little bit of piano.
What musicians influenced you the most?
I have a very, very long list of artists who have influenced me, but if I had to narrow it down a bit it would be: Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Sade, Lauryn Hill (and The Fugees), Toni Braxton, Selena Quintanilla, Ed Sheeran, Corinne Bailey Rae, UB40, Gipsy Kings, and the list is practically endless.
How, if at all, do your musical influences shape and impact your music?
I believe that everything around me shapes and impacts my music. Listening to the artists that influence me opens up my creative mind and reminds me of what music is really about — for me, at least — and what I want it to be about. It’s emotion, it’s raw, it’s life. It makes you feel. Whether that feeling is happy, sad, comforted, lonely, excited, angry or a mix thereof. Its purpose is to activate your feelings and thoughts. I think about that a lot. What are my songs telling me about how I feel? We are all influenced by each other. It’s musical evolution.
Now that you’re rocketing up the staircase of fame, how do you keep yourself grounded?
I don’t ever think of it as rocketing up the staircase of fame. It has always been about reaching as many people as possible. Maybe I can brighten up their day, maybe I can teach them a lesson that I’ve learned from my personal experiences or show them that they’re not the only one’s going through a particular struggle. Fame may be a byproduct of that and that is something I can live with, but it certainly will not affect who I am. I don’t take myself too seriously and I don’t advise anyone else to. Another byproduct of this climb is being able to work with whomever I want, whenever I want, on whatever I want. This is a great luxury in life that I wish for everyone, including myself. Being able to share my art with the world and hopefully connecting with people in some way is something I strive for. I just love making music. This will always keep me grounded.
Your debut EP is entitled The Beauty of Zora. What’s the story behind the title?
My debut EP, The Beauty of Zora, is dedicated to my grandmother Zora, who passed away. I was named after her (my middle name — Zora), and even though I didn’t get the chance to know her very well, I feel like I can relate to her in so many ways. Based off of the stories people tell me about her and the pictures and videos I’ve seen, she was beautiful, brilliant, witty and artistic. She was also schizophrenic. I struggle with anxiety, depression, insomnia and paranoia. I think a lot of people feel ashamed when they have mental health struggles, but personally, I really don’t, and I don’t believe that anyone should. I did feel ashamed about it for a while, but I realized that we all battle with something. Whether it is our minds, our bodies or our emotions, we all have something that we struggle with. In most cases, that is what makes us stronger, better and unique. That is what makes us human. “Zora” also means “dawn” in Serbo-Croatian and “Zana” means “beauty” in Arabic. That is why I titled it the The Beauty of Zora. It represents me, it represents my Nana Zora, but it also represents new beginnings, the start of a new day, a reminder that the sun will come back up the next day along with a whole new set of opportunities.
Your sound has been described as “gypsy pop.” Can you clarify what that is?
I refer to my music as “gypsy pop” because “pop” is the format I use to write songs and the “gypsy” part is based off of my cultural background. I am half Lebanese, which is why I love to always incorporate the Arabic percussion in my songs, and I’m half Serbo-Croatian, which is the Balkan region of the world. From a more personal perspective, I am very organized and particular about everything in my life, except when it comes to my creative world. I love experimenting with different genres and influences. In that sense, I am very free-spirited and nomadic, in other words, a gypsy.
What was the inspiration for your song “Nah?”
I wrote “Nah” based off of many different incidents that happened throughout my life, but more specifically during my years spent in college. It is about the men and boys in the world who do not know how to respectfully approach/treat someone, in particular a woman or girl, and who do not understand the meaning of “no.” Sometimes women just want to dress up sassy and go out and have fun. They want to dance, maybe have a couple drinks and let loose with their friends. Sometimes they even want to dance with a guy, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to hook up with them or go home with them. Maybe they flirt a little or even share a kiss, but at the end of the night, if they say ”no”, then “no” means “no.” Not every female-male interaction is going to prompt a one-night stand.
Who came up with the idea for the visuals in the music video for “Nah?”
It was a collaborative effort, a big part of which came from Kevin McCafferty and Heidi Segal. Together they did an incredible job of capturing what the song is meant to say, “Girls just want to have fun — on their own terms.”
What is your songwriting process? Music first, or lyrics?
It really depends. I don’t have an exact formula, but I usually start off with a chord or two and go from there. Sometimes the music and lyrics come together. Those are my favorite types of songs. You just sit down and everything somehow falls together perfectly.
What’s next for you musically?
I am constantly working on new music and I am currently prepping to release some new songs and music videos very soon! I won’t reveal too much just yet, but definitely keep an eye out.
Any plans to tour?
I don’t have any current plans to tour, but I am always open to it and would be super excited to! I do perform frequently in the New York area. If you want to come check me out in NYC just go to my tour page on my website and you can find all of my upcoming shows listed there!