meta-scriptBye Bye Plastic: BLOND:ISH, Annie Mac, Eats Everything & More Advocate For Eco-Friendly Parties | GRAMMY.com
BLOND:ISH

BLOND:ISH

Photo: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

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Bye Bye Plastic: BLOND:ISH, Annie Mac, Eats Everything & More Advocate For Eco-Friendly Parties

"We're in an absolute pivotal moment in evolution, where change is in the air, and silence doesn't bring change… [the] superpower we have to add to this mix is MUSIC," BLOND:ISH said

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2019 - 06:40 am

Today, Dec. 11, Vivie-Ann Bakos, a.k.a. beloved DJ/producer BLOND:ISH, revealed that more than 1,500 DJs, as well as a growing number of management agencies and clubs, have joined in on Bye Bye Plastic's first movement to eliminate single-use plastic at clubs, parties and festivals.

Artists including Richie Hawtin, ANNA, Pete Tong, Honey Dijon, Ben Klock, Patrick Topping, Sven Väth, Nicole Moudaber, Eats Everything, Annie Mac, Archie Hamilton and many more have committed to the campaign's #PlasticFreeParty pledge by singing onboard with the Eco-Rider, which asks for no plastic bottles, cups or straws in the DJ booths they play in.

The much-needed initiative is helmed by Bakos, who is known for her mystical house sets at parties around the world. She is a regular at Burning Man, an event centered on the sustainability of self, the collective and the surrounding environment and where everyone has to bring their own reusable cups.

Bye Bye Plastic aims to remove single-use plastics from the music industry by 2025.

"We're in an absolute pivotal moment in evolution, where change is in the air, and silence doesn't bring change," Bakos said via a press release.

"Change is fueled by movements. Movements thrive on community, creativity, participation and idealism. The secret ingredient a.k.a. superpower we have to add to this mix is MUSIC. It's the absolute strongest glue, and the strongest human connector. We can't forget that, so let's use it endlessly for GOOD."

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According to the press release, this first call-to-action is just "the first step in a series of industry-wide actionables the [organization] will be rolling out, including carbon offsetting. The Eco-Rider aims to kick start kicking out plastic, joining a number of other brilliant initiatives with the same core mission, working towards a greener future." These include event sustainability experts A Greener Festival and Oceanic Global's Blue Rider, which was used at Glastonbury earlier this year. 
 

One of the main goals of Bye Bye Plastic is to assist clubs and festivals in making the transition to going fully single-use plastic free. Eats Everything and Annie Mac have set the bar for taking the Eco-Rider one step further by encouraging clubs to reach out to the organization for helpful resources.
 
Please visit the org's website if you want to learn more or get involved.

Jayda G Is The Environmental Scientist & House Music DJ/Producer The Planet Needs Right Now

Machinedrum
Machinedrum

Photo: James King

feature

Machinedrum's New Album '3FOR82' Taps Into The Spirit Of His Younger Years

For his 15th album, Machinedrum drew inspiration from his early productions and ventured into the Joshua Tree desert. There, he collaborated with Tinashe, Mick Jenkins, Duckwrth and more, alongside his longtime friend and collaborator Jesse Boykins III.

GRAMMYs/May 28, 2024 - 01:20 pm

“If you were able to go back and hang out or collaborate with your younger self, what would you say to them? What advice would you give them?”

That question fueled Machinedrum’s new album, 3FOR82, out May 24. 

Unlike most people, the prominent electronic producer, real name Travis Stewart, has a direct line to his younger self through the music he’s made. He still has hard drives with productions from his teenage years, and on his new album, he sought to create with that same spirit. He wanted to hang with his younger self who was nothing but a kid who loved music with big dreams.

“In that early period where everything is just so free, there's nothing like it,” Stewart said. “I think, as creatives, we all try to find different ways to tap back into that.” 

By tapping back into that freedom, Stewart made 3FOR82 into a diverse and exciting body of work. On his 41st birthday (the album title 3FOR82 reflects Stewart’s birthday of March 4, 1982), he started exploring his older recordings, collaborating with his younger self. The result is an album that is more than the sum of its parts. Weaving a wide palette of genres together, including alternative hip-hop, drum & bass, and UK garage — along with a long list of collaborators — it has an experimental hunger to it as well.

Stewart worked with more vocal collaborators than on any past album, featuring artists including Tinashe, Mick Jenkins, and Topaz Jones on 11 of the 12 tracks. With this stronger external input, each track has a unique identity. While “HON3Y,” the only solo production, harbors Stewart's talent for erratic sonic motion, “KILL_U” with Tanerélle is a minimalist soul tune.

Clearly, when Stewart was just starting he wanted to make anything and everything. He started releasing music as Machinedrum in 2000. Since then, he has shared 15 albums and launched various aliases including Tstewart, his atmospheric side project, J-E-T-S, the club-focused collaboration with the respected house artist, Jimmy Edgar, and Sepalcure, his duo with Praveen Sharma that focuses on dubstep and UK garage.

After so much experience, he knows the music industry very well. The good parts and the bad. 

“Once you've released a few projects, this new pressure comes along with what your fans expect from you,” Stewart said. Conversely, his early recordings offered a window into an era without any pressure or expectations. 

Read on to learn more about where he found the biggest inspiration when he took a trip down musical memory lane during the making of 3FOR82

Impulse Tracker: His First Production Software

Every artist has to start somewhere, and Machinedrum started with Impulse Tracker, the music production software released in 1995. Stewart is now using industry-standard programs like Abelton, but when he was using Impulse Tracker during his early days, his music was imbued with a kind of youthful optimism that only comes when you’re starting something new. 

"For me it was going into these old Impulse Tracker sessions and finding these little nuggets of ideas that I didn't really know what to do with at the time."

When he was working in Impulse Tracker, he only had the skills to make cursory musical ideas, but when he listened back he was really proud of those ideas. “I was just so excited about music. Not to say that I'm not now, but when I listen to electronic music now, I can't help but think about how it was made. Think about what kind of numbers they're doing. Who produced it? What label released it?” Stewart said. “Whereas back then, I would listen to things for the pure sake of listening to them and just be so inspired.”

Finding Freedom In Rules

Stewart often suffers from what he likes to call “choice paralysis.” If there are too many options it can be difficult for him to make a decision. Well, music production presents endless choices. How much reverb to use? Whether or not to use samples? What plugins will make this track sound its best? So, when he was making 3FOR82 he laid down specific parameters to limit his choices.

First, he was only allowed to use sounds that he drew from his Impulse Tracker recordings. He spent a month going through the old pieces of music and created a sound library from them. Those sounds became the album. “That whole process of creating the sound library was incredibly inspiring. Being a digital archaeologist,” Stewart said.

He had two rules if he wanted to sample something outside those old files. One, he had to run the sound through Impulse Tracker so it maintained the same aesthetic. Two, he had to sample music from his birth year of 1982.

“That was one of the parameters that actually made it a lot of fun to explore what music came out the year of my birth and see what things resonated with me. I was finding a lot of interesting synchronicities of stuff that I didn't realize came out in 1982 that I'm actually a huge fan of,” Stewart said. 

The Legacy Of Joshua Tree Continues

Plenty of artists have found musical inspiration in the vast deserts of Joshua Tree National Park. Josh Homme founded The Desert Sessions there back in 1997. RÜFÜS DU SOL recorded their live album, aptly titled Live From Joshua Tree among the desert rocks in 2019. Now Machinedrum has joined the musical legacy of Joshua Tree by making 3FOR82 there as well.

He always had a great time there when he visited with friends and family in the past, but he also found a profound sense of clarity during those trips.

“Ideas come to me. I just feel so separated from the chaos of the world,” Stewart said. “I had always wanted to come to Joshua Tree for the pure reason of doing something creative.”

He set up a mobile studio in an Airbnb and invited myriad guest artists to join him in this temporary creative atmosphere and share in the clarifying experience.

His Dear Friend Jesse Boykins III

Jesse Boykins III is a vocalist who has collaborated with Stewart since the 2000s. He was also a groomsman at Stewart’s wedding. When Stewart was out in Joshua Tree, he spent an hour on the phone with Boykins discussing his idea of revisiting the past to make the album. During that conversation, he realized their long history together could further fuel the creative process.

Stewart made Boykins a co-executive producer, and Boykins brought in numerous vocalists Stewart had never worked with such as Duckwrth and aja monet. Stewart instructed Boykins to find seasoned artists when he was courting collaborators so they could bring their own past into the music. 

He asked each of the collaborators the guiding question at the beginning of each session: “If you were able to go back and hang out or collaborate with your younger self, what would you say to them? What advice would you give them?”

Sometimes Stewart sampled their responses and added them to the music like with Mick Jenkins’ track, “WEARY.” Other times, the question was meant to inspire trust between Stewart and the collaborators Boykins introduced to him.

“Just having him there, understanding the concept behind the album, and making sure that we're all keeping within the theme, whether literally, or in more of an abstract way, that was super important,” Stewart said of Boykins. “I'm super grateful for his involvement on the album and all the inspiration he gave me. Being there along my side throughout the process. It's very cool working like that with someone. I had never done that with an album in the past.”

Healing His Inner Child

When Stewart was producing 3FOR82 from songs he made as a teenager it was just as spiritual for him as it was technical. During those early years as an artist, Stewart felt very isolated. There was no community around the music he loved growing up in North Carolina in the 90s. Even when his preferred sounds migrated from the UK to the US, it was in cities like Miami and New York, far away from him. In his loneliness, he struggled to believe his dream of being a professional electronic musician was possible.

Well, over two decades later, Stewart has accomplished his dream and then some. By working with music from his past, he was assuring his younger self that everything was going to be OK. “This whole process of collaborating with my younger self on these new songs was so healing for me. It was like a way of me sending a message to my younger self. ‘You're gonna do all these amazing things. You're going to travel the world. You're gonna work with amazing artists. So keep your chin up. Don't worry so much about the future.  Just keep going. Keep doing what you're doing,’” Stewart said.

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DJ Deorro performs  during the Mextour Live Concert at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles in 2023
DJ Deorro performs on stage during the Mextour Live Concert at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 14, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images

list

8 Essential Latin Electronic Releases: Songs And Albums From Bizarrap, Arca & More

Electronic sounds can be heard throughout Latin music and will be recognized in a new Field and Category at the 2024 Latin GRAMMYs. In honor of the new Best Latin Electronic Music Performance award, read on for eight Latin electronic music essentials.

GRAMMYs/May 2, 2024 - 01:22 pm

Electronic music is embedded within the diverse world of Latin music and, for the first time, will be recognized in a new Field and Category at the 2024 Latin GRAMMYs. Within that field, the award for Best Latin Electronic Music Performance was created to shine a light on DJs, producers, and artists blending proudly blending electronic music with the sounds of their cultures.

Electronic music embodies various subgenres like house music, techno, trance, electronica, and many others rooted that have been popularized by DJs and producers. Latin artists have long enriched those subgenres: Mexico's Belanova globalized the electro-pop wave, while Bomba Estéreo blended cumbia with electronica in Colombia. 

The explosion of EDM in the 2010s also allowed the careers of Latinx DJs to flourish. Mexican American DJ Deorro has showcased both cultures during sets at music festivals like EDC, Coachella, Tomorrowland, and more. Arca's music pushes the boundaries of electronic music through a Venezuelan and Latin American lens. More recently, Colombian producer Víctor Cárdenas bridged the gap between EDM and reggaeton with the global hit "Pepas" by Farruko. Since then, electronic music has seeped through the work of Latin hit-makers like Tainy, Caleb Calloway, Bizarrap and Diego Raposo. "Pepas" and many of Bizarrap's music sessions crossed over onto Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs.

"That’s something that’s very big for us," Deorro tells GRAMMY.com about the new category. "How beautiful that this is happening, because it shows that what we’re doing is working, we’re breaking down doors, and we’re creating more opportunities for artists like us in the future." 

In honor of the Latin Recording Academy's new Field and Category, here are eight must-hear Latin electronic music essentials.

Belanova - Cocktail (2003)

Belanova revolutionized the Latin music space with their 2003 debut album Cocktail, an atmospheric LP that seamlessly blends Latin pop with electronic music. In the dreamy deep house of "Tu Ojos," singer Denisse Guerrero sang about getting lost in her lover's eyes. The trippy techno of "Barco De Papel" was reminiscent of the music from Madonna's Ray of Light album. Electronic music on the ambient level wasn’t common in Latin music until Belenova changed the game in Mexico, which later reverberated into the rest of Latin America and the U.S. 

The trio — which includes guitarist Ricardo Arreol and keyboardist Edgar Huerta — later delved into electro-pop on 2007's Fantasía Pop, which won a Latin GRAMMY for Best Pop Album by a Group or Duo the following year. 

Arca - Kick I-II (2020)

Venezuelan producer/artist Arca is a pioneer in the Latin electronic music space. Arca first began producing her experimental electronica in Spanish with her 2017 self-titled album.

Arca then masterfully mixed the diverse sounds of Latin America and beyond with EDM throughout her Kick album series. 

For Kick I, she combined Venezuelan gaita music and reggaeton with a cyberpunk edge in "KLK" featuring Spanish pop star Rosalía. Arca then blended electronica with neo-perreo on Kick II's "Prada" and "Rakata." Both albums garnered Arca GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY nominations. 

As a trans and non-binary artist, she is also breaking boundaries for the LGBTQ+ community in the genre. Arca is just not creating more space for queer artists in Latin music, but also in EDM at large by embracing the totality of herself in song.  

Bomba Estéreo - Deja (2021)

Bomba Estéreo, which is comprised of core members Simón Mejía and Liliana "Li" Saumet, has masterfully melded the music of Colombia’s Caribbean coast with electronic music. Since breaking out in 2008 with their sophomore album, the group has often reimagined the African and Indigenous rhythms of their country like cumbia through dance music. Bomba Estéreo’s folkloric approach to EDM has led to collaborations with Bad Bunny, Tainy, and Sofi Tukker.    

In 2021, Bomba Estéreo released its most ambitious album Deja, which garnered a GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY nominations. The title track put a funky spin on the band's signature electro-tropical sound. House music collided with the Afro-Colombian rhythms of champeta in "Conexión Total" featuring Nigerian singer Yemi Alade. Their album that was based on the four classical elements was a breath of fresh air in the Latin music scene. 

Bizarrap - "BZRP Music Sessions #52" (2022)

Argentine producer Bizarrap launched the BZRP Music Sessions on YouTube in 2018, first remaining behind the console for freestyle rapping sessions with local acts. The sessions quickly went viral, and have featured increasingly larger names in music.

Over the past five years, Bizarrap worked elements of electronic music into his hip-hop productions. In 2022, he fully delved into EDM with his global hit "BZRP Music Sessions #52" featuring Spanish singer Quevedo. The traptronica banger peaked at No. 4 on Billboard's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs and earned Bizarrap his first Latin GRAMMY Award. 

Since then, his music sessions have become a global event. Bizarrap later infused electro-pop with a trap breakdown in "BZRP Music Sessions #53" with Shakira, which garnered him two more Latin GRAMMY awards. 

Javiera Mena - Nocturna (2022)

Javiera Mena first debuted as an indie act in 2006 with Esquemas Juveniles. With that freedom as a producer and artist, the Chilean star pushed Latin music into the electronic space with her 2010 album Mena

She fully immersed herself into Latin electronica on her latest album, 2022's Nocturna — an album filled with nighttime club bangers that invite everyone to dance with her. Mena also proudly sings about being part of the LGBTQ+ community in the alluring "La Isla de Lesbos" and the fierce house music of "Diva" featuring Chico Blanco. Considering the influence of queer artists in the formation of electronic genres like house, it’s refreshing to see an artist like Mena remind people of those roots and bring that into Latin music.  

Deorro - Orro (2022)

Mexican American producer Deorro has established himself as one of the world's top DJs, and is known for mixing both of his cultures into his music festival sets. Even before the música mexicana explosion last year, he was one of the first mainstream EDM acts to bring the genre to music festivals around the world through his songs and remixes.   

With his debut album, 2022's Orro, Deorro fully bridged música mexicana with house music. He collaborated with Latin acts like Mexico's Los Tucanes De Tijuana and Maffio in "Yo Las Pongo," which blended the band's norteño sound with EDM. Deorro also explored cumbia with deep house in the sweeping "Dime" featuring Los Ángeles Azules and Lauri Garcia. In his recent sets, he is spinning a fiery remix of "Ella Baila Sola" by Eslabon Armado and Peso Pluma

Sinego - Alterego (2023)

Sinego first broke through in 2019 thanks to his house bolero sound like in "Verte Triste," which put a refreshing spin on an age-old Cuban genre. With traditional genres within the Latin diaspora often falling to the wayside as the years go on, he is reintroducing them to new audiences through EDM reimaginings.   

For his debut album, 2023's Alterego, the Colombian producer pushed his electronic music to another level. Sinego traveled to different Latin American countries and Spain to record with local musicians, reimagining genres like cumbia, tango, and mambo through Sinego's EDM lens. With the sultry "Mala," he blended Venezuela's variation of calypso with house music. He also gave Brazilian samba a house music makeover in "Boa Noite" featuring Tonina. 

Diego Raposo - Yo No Era Así Pero De Ahora En Adelante Sí (2023)

Dominican producer Diego Raposo has helped Latin acts like Danny Ocean, Blue Rojo, and Letón Pé embrace elements of electronic music. In 2018, Raposo released his debut album Caribe Express, which demonstrated his knack for mixing the sounds of the Caribbean with EDM. 

Raposo took that inventive mix into overdrive with last year's Yo No Era Así Pero De Ahora En Adelante Sí. The otherworldly "Si Supieras" featuring Okeiflou blended house music with reggaeton, while "Al Contrario" with Akrilla aggressively mixes drum 'n 'bass with dembow. Rapaso also channels Dance Dance Revolution-esque electronica in the spellbinding "Quédate" with Kablito. 

7 Latin DJs To Watch In 2023: Gordo, Arca, The Martinez Brothers & More

Curtis Jones, aka Cajmere & Green Velvet, performing live. Jones is wearing dark sunglasses amid a dark background and green strobe lights.
Curtis Jones performs as Green Velvet

Photo: Matt Jelonek/WireImage

interview

Dance Legend Curtis Jones On Cajmere, Green Velvet & 30 Years Of Cajual Records

As Green Velvet and Cajmere, DJ/producer Curtis Jones celebrates everything from Chicago to acid house. With a new party and revived record label, Jones says he wants to "shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive."

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 02:19 pm

Curtis Jones is a dance music legend, whose multiple monikers only begin to demonstrate his deep and varied influence in the genre.

Jones has been active as a producer and DJ for decades, and is among a cadre of dance music acts forging a connection between the genre's origins and its modern iterations. Crucially, he  joined Chicago house legends Honey Dijon and Terry Hunter on Beyoncé's house-infused RENAISSANCE, providing a sample for "Cozy." He’s also produced tracks with house favorites Chris Lake and Oliver Heldens, and DJed with Dom Dolla and John Summit.

Jones contributed to the aforementioned collaborations, young and old, as Green Velvet. He’s been releasing dance hits like "Flash" and "Answering Machine" under that name since the mid- '90s. He is also currently a staple of the live circuit, his signature green mohawk vibing in clubs and festivals around the globe — including at his own La La Land parties in Los Angeles, Denver, Orlando, and elsewhere.

Green Velvet is appropriately braggadocious, even releasing the popular "Bigger Than Prince" in 2013. But by the time Jones had released the heavy-grooving tech house track, his artistry had been percolating for decades as Cajmere.

Where Green Velvet releases lean into acid house and Detroit techno, Cajmere is all about the traditional house sound of Jones’ hometown of Chicago. When Jones first debuted Cajmere in 1991, Chicago’s now-historic reputation for house music was still developing. Decades after the original release, Cajmere tracks like "Percolator,” have sustained the Windy City sound via remixes by prominent house artists like Will Clarke, Jamie Jones, and Claude VonStroke.

"I love doing music under both of my aliases, so it’s great when fans discover the truth,” Jones tells GRAMMY.com over email. Often, Jones performs as Cajmere to open his La La Land parties, and closes as Green Velvet. 

But beyond a few scattered performances and new tracks, Cajmere has remained dormant while Green Velvet became a worldwide headliner, topping bills in Mexico City, Toronto, Bogotá and other international dance destinations. He’s only shared two original releases as Cajmere since 2016: "Baby Talk,” and "Love Foundation,” a co-production with fellow veteran Chicago producer/DJ Gene Farris.

This year, Jones is reviving Cajmere to headliner status with his new live event series, Legends. First held in March in Miami, Jones' Legends aims to highlight other dance music legends, from Detroit techno pioneers Stacey Pullen and Carl Craig, to Chicago house maven Marshall Jefferson. 

"My intention is to shine a light on those who sacrificed so much to keep house music alive," Jones writes. "The sad reality is that most of the legendary artists aren’t celebrated or compensated as well as they should be."

Given that dance music came into the popular music zeitgeist relatively recently, the originators of the genre — like the artists Jones booked for his Legends party — are still in their prime. Giving them space to perform allows them to apply the same innovation they had in the early '90s in 2024.

Jones says the Miami Legends launch was an amazing success."Seeing the passion everyone, young and old, displayed was so inspiring."

Curtis Jones Talks House, Cajmere & Green Velvet performs at Legends Miami

Curtis Jones, center, DJs at the Miami Legends party ┃Courtesy of the artist

The first Legends party also served as a celebration of Cajual Records, the label Jones launched in 1992 as a home for his Cajmere music. Over the past three decades, Cajual has also released tracks from dance music veterans such as Riva Starr, as well as contemporary tastemakers like Sonny Fodera and DJ E-Clyps. 

Furthermore, Jones’ partnership with revered singers such as Russoul and Dajae (the latter of whom still performs with him to this day) on Cajual releases like "Say U Will” and "Waterfall” helped to define the vocal-house style.

Like the Cajmere project, Cajual Records has been moving slower in recent years. The label has only shared four releases since 2018. True to form, though, Jones started another label; Relief Records, the home of Green Velvet's music, shared 10 releases in 2023 alone.

Jones says he's been particularly prolific as Green Velvet because "the genres of tech house and techno have allowed me the creative freedom I require as an artist."

Now Jones is making "loads of music” as Cajmere again and recently signed a new distribution deal for Cajual Records. The true sound of Chicago is resonating with audiences in 2024, Jones says, adding "it's nice that house is making a comeback."

Jones remembers when house music was especially unpopular. He used to call radio stations in the '80s to play tracks like Jamie Principle's underground classic "Waiting On My Angel,” only to be told they didn’t play house music whatsoever. In 2024, house music records like FISHER’s "Losing It” were certified gold, and received nominations for Best Dance Recording at the 66th GRAMMY Awards. Jones is embracing this popularity with open arms.

Read more: The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

"The new audience it’s attracting is excited to hear unique underground-style house records now. This is perfect for my Cajmere sets,” Jones says. "I never saw Green Velvet being more popular than Cajmere, and both sounds being as popular as they are even today.” 

While Jones is finding success in his own artistic endeavors, he points to a general lack of appreciation for Black dance artists in festival bookings. Looking at the run-of-show for ARC Festival, a festival in Chicago dedicated to house and techno music, legendary artists play some of the earliest slots. 

For the 2023 edition, Carl Craig played at 3 p.m on Saturday while the young, white John Summit, closed the festival the same night. In 2021, the acid house inventor, Chicago’s DJ Pierre, played the opening set at 2 p.m. on Saturday, while FISHER, another younger white artist, was the headliner.

In 2020, Marshall Jefferson penned an op-ed in Mixmag about the losing battle he is fighting as a Black DJ from the '90s. He mentions that younger white artists often receive upwards of $250,000 for one gig, whereas he receives around $2,000, despite the fact that he still DJs to packed crowds 30 years after he started.

Jones is doing his part to even the playing field with Legends, and according to him, things are going well after the first edition. "Seeing how much respect the fans have for the Legends was so special,” Jones says. "Hopefully they become trendy again.” 

The story of Curtis Jones is already one of legend, but it is far from over. "I feel it’s my duty to continue to make creative and innovative tracks as well as musical events. I love shining the light on new upcoming and emerging artists as well as giving the originators their proper dues,” Jones says. 

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Elyanna
Elyanna

Photo: Courtesy of Elyanna

news

Inside Elyanna's World: How Creating 'Woledto' Allowed The Singer/Songwriter To Find A New Layer Of Herself

Elyanna's distinctive new album, 'Woledto,' combines the sounds of her Palestinian and Chilean heritage with an appetite for powerful pop songstresses.

GRAMMYs/Apr 11, 2024 - 01:34 pm

Elyanna is every bit an artist of our specific moment. The 22-year-old Los Angeles-based singer weaves together global influences, merging sounds from her personal history with a wider pop sensibility. 

With hints of Rihanna’s sultriness and Astrud Gilberto's effortless cool, Elyanna's music is often accompanied by a pulsating beat and traditional Middle Eastern instruments. 

By uniting musical traditions from the Palestinian and Chilean sides of her family, she creates songs that are at once sweetly enticing and bracing. "Al Sham," for example, opens with ethereal, floating vocals before morphing to incorporate aggressive synths and drums. The result is a growing, idiosyncratic body of work made for both crying on the dancefloor and rump-shaking. 

Paradoxical? Sure, but there are no contradictions in Elyanna’s art, only unexpected connections that make sense as soon as she starts talking about how they fit together. Of her forthcoming album, Woledto (in English, I Am Born), Elyanna explains that she and her brother/co-composer/producer Feras wanted to create music with unusual depth. "I want people to find these clues, because that’s the kind of art I like, when it’s deep and not always on the surface," she tells GRAMMY.com.

She knows Woledto is a big swing, and relishes the feeling of freedom and self-determination that comes with that kind of risk. "I really put my heart and all my emotions, everything I feel in it, and what I love about it is that I think that it's ahead of its time."  

In 2023, Elyanna notched a unique milestone as the first Arab artist to perform in Arabic at Coachella. Her subsequent debut tour sold out every date, and her next performance in the U.S. is set for April 27 at Los Angeles’ storied Wiltern Theater. The singer/songwriter takes it all in stride, with a natural self-possession; Elyanna is an energetic, curious young woman who’s as at ease on the road as she is in the living room studio she maintains at her parents’ home. 

With Woledto out April 12, Elyanna sat down with GRAMMY.com to chat about writing authentic bangers, repping every facet of her identities at Coachella and beyond, and her seamless approach to sound and vision. 

This conversation has been condensed and edited.

Woledto is out this week – congratulations! How are you feeling about it?

I'm excited – it feels so cool! I really took my time with this one, because I was able to figure out this new layer of myself and was able to connect with my roots more than ever. 

I know that not everyone's gonna get it right away, and I believe that when you want to create art that feels timeless, you have to make sure that you don't rush it. It's fine if it takes its time. I just wanted to create something that felt outside of the world, and had its own feeling and world. 

Can you expand a bit about pouring your whole self into this album? You mentioned your feelings, your identity, and you have such an interesting, multinational identity as a Palestinian-Chilean woman who now lives in Los Angeles. How did you incorporate all of that – and other aspects of yourself – into Woledto?

I come from two different backgrounds, and it's always very natural for me to put those together; I was born and raised in Nazareth, Palestine, and I am also part Chilean, so this is my world. I love to dig deeper into culture, and find more inspirations — there's so many hidden gems in my cultures, and I feel like it's time for the world to see it and to hear about it. 

I took inspiration from my grandfather — he’s the only featured performer on this album. I saw this video of him singing in a wedding; he was a singer and a poet, and he was doing a freestyle in Arabic. I sampled that video in a song called "Sad in Pali" — me and my brother were in Palestine for a visit after a few years away, and we felt very disconnected from everything there. This album has a lot of intentional inspirations that I want people to find.

Your music videos feed into that goal, too — they’re very arty, the imagery is so distinctive. The song that leaps to mind first is "Gheneni", which opens with a male vocal — I thought maybe it was a call to worship — and then channels Rihanna in your vocal, while the visuals are a hybrid of belly dance and you and your girls all hanging out in the desert. How do you weave all of those things together into a song that means "Drive Me Crazy"?

So my studio is at home in the living room, super humble, and it’s always full of friends and family sitting around while me and my brother [Feras] are working there. 

One day my dad was watching a very dramatic Arabic show, and my brother heard this music in the back that felt so powerful, so spiritual. So my brother took that and sampled it, and that’s the vocal that opens the song. Then he made a beat that feels like tribal fusion to follow. I always say "Gheneni" is spiritual, and also reminds me of "Gasolina" by Daddy Yankee, because it’s got so much swag. I’m rapping and just doing my thing on it, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions and very sassy. I love it. 

You look so free in that video, and I noticed that in most of your videos, there’s at least a few big moments of you being surrounded by other women. It’s really memorable in "Mama Eh," too. Tell me a little bit about the aesthetic and approach you use when you’re making these videos?

I really love to collab with people — I try my best, always, to be open to ideas. Usually how it starts is with my brother, we make the music and take care of the visual creativity of it. He’s my creative director, so we always keep sharing ideas together, brainstorming, and we save it all in this little folder to use whenever the time’s right. I love to always come in ready for my videos, live performances, but I never want to forget to be natural, and I don't want to be too ready, sometimes I want to be free. Sometimes all you need is just to be you, singing on camera, and that's enough. 

I love having a lot of female empowerment around me, too. I was raised that way — my mom is a very strong woman, my grandma is a very strong woman, my sister is a very strong woman, and I find so much power, if I'm feeling down, to talk to my sister and to talk to my girlfriends. So especially as an Arab woman, I want to make sure that I lift this female energy up for all the girls out there, and all the girls in the Middle East to feel that they can dream big, and they don't have to be always so soft. 

That’s really who I am, sometimes aggressive, very passionate and on fire. I feel like every human, we have a little bit of both, and I don't want to hide any of them. I want to be real and honest.

It seems like another throughline in your music is its cinematic quality. Woledto’s title track is also the album opener, and it sounds like it could as easily have been something you wrote for a film. If you could pick any film scene for your music to play over, what would it be?

I'm such a movie nerd! Right now, the film that felt so much like the world that I create in my music is Dune, Part Two or The Black Swan. There's so many scenes that I love, but it makes so much sense from what we were just talking about the different, changing parts of our personalities that I feel like the last performance where Natalie Portman had to perform as both the white swan and the black swan would be perfect for the outros of "Kon Nafsak" or "Sad in Pali." 

I understand you had a really special experience meeting Lana del Rey on one of your music videos. It makes sense that you’d love her, her work is so cinematic and she has such a recognizable style. 

Yes! Lana’s sister Chuck is an amazing director, and she shot one of my videos, for "La Vie en Rose." It’s a cover of the Edith Piaf song, and Chuck has such a beautiful vision. 

So Lana was there for the whole shoot, and she picked my dresses, and gifted them to me! She was an angel, just the coolest, and she did not disappoint. I've been listening to Lana since I was 10, and was obsessed with her. She was literally on my phone case. Meeting her and working with her and fully trusting what she says — I cried at the end, it was amazing

How great to have an experience that disproves the advice never to meet your heroes. In your cover, do you sing in French, English, or Arabic? 

It’s in Arabic, the title for my version is "Al Kawn Janni Maak." I actually co-wrote that translation with my mom and my brother; I’d always wanted to hear it in Arabic. 

That's really cool. It sounds like your work is very rooted in your family, not just having them with you at home or on tour, but they’re a big part of your music itself, too. 

It was always this way, even when I was little — I was 7 years old, 10 years old, and just dreaming of being an artist. My brother is the one who discovered my talent — he’s a pianist, and he would sit next to me for hours while I'm singing with a big mic, saying "Yo, you can do this note better." 

My mom writes my music with me, and it’s very powerful and so interesting. My sister Tali is part of it, too; she’s always been very good with fashion and is my stylist. We’d always be doing fashion shoots in our backyard, where my sister would dress me and my brother would take the pictures. I don't think anything’s changed since then, it’s just on another level, a bigger scale. We complete each other. 

Let’s talk about your influences and how you find your way to them. You’ve got this great playlist on Spotify that includes such a diverse group of artists, including ones that were delightful surprises: Pink Floyd, Nancy Sinatra, Chris Isaac, and Sadé. How do you discover artists who have a long history but are new to you?

I grew up listening to and singing jazz, I used to be obsessed with it. And it was very rare in Nazareth, but I must have found videos on YouTube. Etta James’ songs feel so real and timeless. There’s a lot of live instruments, it’s very detailed and very raw. It’s so beautiful! The lyrics, the production, even the fashion —it’s a world that I just really, really love.

I am very open when it comes to music. The best thing is to have conversations with people and meet new people, they bring you so much knowledge that you can bring into your own world. 

Speaking of sharing worlds, you did that on a massive scale by playing at Coachella last year. You’re the first Arab artist to perform in Arabic at that festival, and it’s kind of shocking that it took so long for that milestone to happen. What does that experience mean to you?

I like to look at the bigger picture; you know, it was very exciting, and it's not only for me, it's for our culture, for our people. It was an honor singing at an iconic festival, and I do not want to be the last person that performs there in Arabic. 

It was a moment that I feel like we needed for our culture, and I was surprised by how many people saw that performance — I didn’t expect it, so many people were there from completely different cultures, probably not knowing what I was saying, but they still loved it. 

That mirrors your interest in and embrace of always experiencing and looking for something new, giving that to the audience, too. 

Exactly. It was new to me, too, because Coachella was really my first real performance. I'm there thinking that's a lot of responsibility on me now, so I have to make it work, to make it the best I can. I was able to bring the belly dancing, the tribal fusion dancing, all these elements that we have in our culture, like the coins on my hips — it means a lot to me that people took it in like that. 

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