Model Dana Hourani on the release of her debut album: 'It's a career transition'

Now turned singer, she collaborates with fellow Lebanese songwriter Anthony Khoury from Adonis for the project

Dana Hourani recorded her debut album 'Ensanein' over a two-year stretch in Lebanon. Photo: Hasan Khaled
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Dana Hourani’s debut album has been a long time coming.

Released in November, Ensanein finds the successful Lebanese model and visual artist going back to her personal and creative roots.

Recorded over a two-year stretch in Lebanon, these soulful songs about love, family and homecoming are co-written with Anthony Khoury from popular Arab indie-rock group Adonis.

The duo recently reunited for the official album launch event at Dubai's The Fridge, where Hourani performed selected tracks with a backing band featuring a string section.

Speaking to The National, Hourani describes her move from fashion to music as a new beginning.

“What I am doing with music is not a brand extension, but a career transition,” she says.

Finding her community online

That pivot means going back more than 20 years ago when Hourani first began immersing herself in music.

Born in Sharjah, Hourani, 35, relocated to Beirut when she was 9 before returning to the UAE in 2008.

“When I was in Lebanon I found myself hanging out more with musicians and their circles. I just felt comfortable and inspired in those environments,” she says.

“And in the family home there was also music. My uncle would visit us often and he would show me a few chords on the piano.”

While the dream of launching a music career was still on her mind after resettling in Dubai, Hourani had to put it aside for the moment to make way for more pressing concerns.

“I needed to look for a job and I found it in a music distribution company,” she says. “It was mostly paperwork and really focused on the boring side of the industry. I was doing that for about three years before things really started to change for me.”

Hourani refers to the launch of Instagram in 2010, a platform where she built a career as a visual artist and fashion influencer by documenting and predicting the latest sartorial trends in the Mena region.

Sprinkled amid those posts, however, is evidence of a burgeoning singer-songwriter finding her feet.

“I would post some songs and covers and I would get really motivated by the reaction and knowing the songs were connecting with people,” she says. “It was really through Instagram that I connected with the people I went on to work on this album.”

Songs of hope and doubt

It's also how she connected with Khoury, the singer and chief songwriter for Adonis.

“He is the only person from the project that I can say I collaborated with from A to Z,” Hourani says. “We would work on the lyrics, the melodies and song structure. He is a constant thread throughout the album.”

Khoury’s touch can be heard particularly on the album’s production, with its sparse and, at times, baroque orchestra instrumentation, also recalling his work with Adonis.

While Khoury helped co-write the lyrics, the subject matter comprises of intimate snapshots and memories from Hourani’s life.

Track Enti Adda (You Are Worthy) finds her getting real with herself over a driving percussion and the swirling notes of a violin.

"It's a lot of inner dialogue and it is basically me talking to myself in front of the mirror," she says. "Originally, I wanted the song to be called You Are Not Worthy to reflect the self-doubt I always had. Whether it was my professional or personal life, I always felt that the moment was way beyond me and I couldn’t face it right now.

“It was during the writing process with Anthony we realised the song would be better if we wrote it from a more empowering perspective."

Other highlights such as the lush Zghiret Hal Bayt (This Little House), dedicated to her daughter Zoe, 5, and the radio-friendly Erjaa Shoufak (To See You Again), all tie to the album's key theme.

"The album's title and subject matter refers to a sense of duality many of us have and feel," she says. "It's about how you are seen and how you portray yourself versus what you really feel on the inside.”

Hourani says it’s a personal struggle partly triggered by her success in the fashion world.

"The fashion industry does cause some level of anxiety," she says. "But it is something I learnt to get over by approaching it very naturally and always trying to be 100 per cent authentic."

“It is actually music that caused me the most anxiety and maybe that's because I am more passionate about it and I felt I had to deliver my absolute best."

Such a wholehearted approach means Hourani’s fashion career will take a backseat in the immediate future.

“I am currently working on putting together a Middle East tour and trying to get to places like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia,” she says.

“Music is the priority for the time being and anything else will have to fit in around that."

Updated: December 27, 2021, 12:15 PM