Why Elyanna is not the first artist to sing in Arabic at Coachella

Such claims overshadow the work of others who performed at the festival

Elyanna made her mark with the 2020 self-titled debut EP, a strong collection of electronic-inspired Arabic tracks. Getty Images for Fashion Trust Arabia
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The Arab world is to be proudly represented at one of the world's biggest music festivals.

Palestinian-Chilean singer Elyanna has been announced as one of the artists performing at Coachella, the mammoth festival held over two weekends in April in California.

She joins a number of big and influential names across genres from pop to electronica, including headliners RnB singer Frank Ocean, K-pop behemoth Blackpink and Latin-pop star Bad Bunny.

The fact a regional artist, whose work is proudly imbued within the Arab world’s rich music tradition, is performing at such a major festival should be applauded and celebrated.

This is until the hype overshadows the feats of other Arab artists whose similar achievements received less fanfare.

Such is the case with the publicity campaign and media reports surrounding Elyanna's coming Coachella appearance, which feature some dubious claims.

One is the reported notion she is the first Palestinian artist to perform at the event.

I wonder how DJ Sama, full name Sama' Abdulhadi, would feel about that, considering the pioneering Palestinian DJ took the decks at the festival only last year.

Another claim, posted on Elyanna’s official Instagram and repeated in the media, is she is the first artist to sing in Arabic at Coachella.

Again, this is false.

However, it would require a fair bit of research to ascertain that fact.

The reality is, in 2017, those at the smaller Gobi Tent at the festival would have heard plenty of Arabic tunes courtesy of a set by Israeli-Arab group Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis.

Led by Tassa, the grandson of famous Kuwaiti musician Daoud Al-Kuwaity and hailing from a Mizrahi Jewish family from Iraq and Kuwait, the band’s set featured their signature rock versions of vintage Iraqi and Kuwaiti folk songs.

According to Tassa, they received a warm reception in Coachella.

“The thing that we had [worried about] in our minds before we came is how the American audience would take to Arab music and Arab players with Jewish players, playing those concerts,” he said in an interview with Billboard after the show.

“We were surprised — because they loved us.”

The less we give credence to the outrageous claim also doing the media rounds that Elyanna is the first Arabic artist to perform in Coachella, the better.

In addition to the aforementioned DJ Sama and some of the Arab band members of Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis — such as cellist and backing vocalist Adel Jubran — you don’t have to go far back to see how Coachella has had regional representation.

French Montana attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating the opening of the "Camp: Notes on Fashion" exhibition on Monday, May 6, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

In 2018, Moroccan hip-hop star French Montana and Canadian Palestinian rapper Belly performed, while the following year featured a guest appearance by Wafia (full name Wafia Al-Rikabi), an Australian singer of Iraqi-Syrian origin.

None of these facts should take the shine away from Elyanna’s achievements, however.

The fact she is sharing this year’s bill with such an illustrious bunch speaks to her talent and work done behind the scenes.

Born in Nazareth and residing in California, Elyanna — real name Elian Marjieh — made her mark with her 2020 self-titled debut EP, a strong collection of electronic-inspired Arabic tracks that had her dynamic vocals at the forefront.

The resulting online buzz reached the ears of Canadian-Lebanese industry titan Wassim "Sal" Slaiby, who counts last year's Coachella headliner The Weeknd as one of his clients.

The mix of Elyanna’s raw talent and Slaiby’s industry nous bodes well for the artist’s future.

Hopefully, it can be one where Elyanna’s star can shine without the unnecessary noise caused by incorrect claims, no matter how well-intentioned.

Updated: January 15, 2023, 2:53 PM