“The accent didn’t help. I feel like people see it and they’re like ‘oh it’s even more exotic. Let me try like really hard to pronounce it in a different way,'” Zāna playfully states as she recalls the different variations of her name she’s heard. Her Lebanese, Serbian and Croatian family roots have always led to the aged question upon first glance of “what are you?” as Zāna put it, even more so with her name. “Where I grew up I never met anyone like me, especially half Lebanese and half Serbian-Croatian; that was super weird. So, now that I’m in New York, I’m meeting all these people who are half Lebanese, and I’m like this is so cool! I am not alone. ”
Connecting on similar threads of our Lebanese roots, Zāna’s continuation of attracting only half-Lebanese individuals became a welcoming, serendipitous phenomenon. Circling back to the accent in her name that aimed to rectify it all, but apparently failed, I confessed of my own battle with her name, contemplating if there should be a Latin spin on it due to her music’s incorporation of Arabic and Latin elements. Zāna laughed in an agreeable fashion, continuing the vivid and comical scene she painted of her parents’ naming process.
Despite her light-hearted jabs she threw at her name, Zāna’s disposition and tone unveiled a freer version filled with an affirmative love of her identity and self in every possible way. Dubbing her sound as “gypsy-pop” every road led back to the pieces that made her being, attributing the genre to her parents’ halves.
“They both have the gypsy thing in the family and it’s part of my blood basically. I love incorporating that into my music and that’s why I put Arabic percussion into my songs. And then also for more personal perspective I’m like extremely organized, like a very picky person when it comes to my life in general, things have to be a certain way, but for music it doesn’t; it’s very free spirited for me. It’s like where I can be creative and just kinda flow within rather than be such a perfectionist basically. I feel more open with music and it’s just…free spirited and nomadic and just that’s why I call it gypsy-pop. I just love experimenting with different genres, and different little flavors, and putting everything together.”
Lining up all pieces, her resolution was found at the completion of her 5-track debut EP, The Beauty of Zora, that contrasted her happy-go-lucky, conversational tone. The EP runs as a glossy, reflective stance — heard heavily on “Why Can’t You” — delivered in a jazz-styling of accidental grace, or as Zāna explained it, “falling into place.” An ethereal smoke which Zāna leaves behind, is magical to say the least, as she goes into another mindset, pulling her middle name into the lime light. While her main “home base” of sound stems from pop, the natural curve of her low and silvery croon adapts to each soundscape created. Heavier than the carefree tone that engaged effortlessly with me, the conscious and connecting thoughts of The Beauty of Zora seemed to be endless.
“I was named after my grandmother who passed away, and her name was Zora, and she had schizophrenia. So, I think just from the stories I’ve heard of her and I don’t remember much because I was very little when she passed away, but people always compare me to her — looks wise and personality wise — and so I think once I got older I started experiencing mental health struggles of my own. Well, this EP represents it. There’s insomnia — which causes a lot of problems because when you don’t sleep you get more depressed — anxiety, overthinking, paranoia, all these things. So, I think at that point I felt very alone but I also kinda related to her, even though obviously I don’t know exactly what she went through but just the stories of her; I felt very close to her.”
“I don’t think she was…,” began Zāna as she held seconds to find the perfect word. “I don’t think when people say ‘mentally ill,’ I don’t think that’s really the right word. I feel like she [grandmother] experienced so much that it made her, and drove her a little, you know? A little bit of overthinking and that can cause a lot of problems for people because when you overthink you just drive yourself a little mad. So, I think a big part of that was I just felt very connected to her when it came to that stuff.”
Disbanding the word ill, in regards to mental health, Zāna’s refreshing perspective fell into the artist’s care of every detail. Wondering what word she would use, Zāna’s response came without hesitation. “I’d say mental health struggle. I don’t feel people who struggle with mental health are ill, necessarily, I think it’s just kinda like a word that makes it seem hard to explain. Just when you say the word ill it’s like a very negative thing and I don’t think so.”
“I think there’s a lot of people that have mental health struggles that function completely normally with everyone else. I just feel like there’s…I’m just not a fan personally. That’s what I’m gonna say on that,” explained Zana as I threw in the word crazy in the bucket to be blacklisted.
“Yeah, crazy isn’t the best word. I also say crazy as a good thing. Like, I have said, ‘oh my god that’s so crazy, they did such an amazing job,’ you know, stuff like that. So, I think a lot of the words that we use need to be reviewed again and maybe selected better for certain situations.”
Intertwining the human thread, Zāna’s emerging journey danced around her many ideals of personal struggles, such as depression, anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, and being “delusional about things in life.” Realizing that she isn’t alone, a reoccurring motif that ironically seeped on the video for “Wish He’d Stayed,” gave each track a variety of different meanings, subject to its listener’s mindset.
Holding on to this project kept Zāna up at night as she purposely gripped against time. Therapeutically, Zāna’s release removed the unnecessary pressure and allowed vulnerability to be seen, a trait that she expressed being natural. From instrumentation, arrangement, and production, the EP is masterly finessed. Heavily soaked in jazz, due to her band’s background, while absorbing in a lounge aroma, each track has the potency to stand on its own. A “planned accident” led Zāna to dabble in the EP’s production alongside engineer Al Hemberger of Loft Studios, which came to be after the success of many recorded live sessions.
Our conversation weaved in and out to these sounds and last minute details. What more could be said that couldn’t be heard on the suspended dream rhetoric of an insomniac on “Toss n Turn,” or “Dreaming” and its momentous movements? Beautiful traces of a Darbuka and Riq are prominently heard and marries a Bossa Nova core that justifies her gypsy-pop crown. As much as we spoke about backgrounds, respect led me to ask if Arabic and Latin is where she wanted to be tied into, as these are more than simply sounds.
“I grew up listening to, I mean our main thing in the house was like Arabic music and then Gipsy Kings. We’re like obsessed with Gipsy Kings,” laughed Zāna at the mention of the flamenco group. “There’s like so many more, and Selena I love her, oh my God! We definitely grew up listening to a lot of things like that so I’m totally for it. My parents are for it too. We’re always down to listen to different styles of music, and we’re kinda all overall the place so I’m definitely happy being tied to everything. A lot of people also tie me to Indian as well, and I have a lot of fans in India, which is pretty crazy — that word crazy, see?” excitedly drifted Zāna from her own conversation, “I’ve never actually been there or anything like that. And I love Indian music as well. I’m totally down to be tied to anything. I’m happy; I feel honored.”
Always working on music, new projects aren’t that far away for Zāna, which will flow to more upbeat and fun cuts. Readily letting me know that her next aim is to define her sound more, which could only be found through experimenting, her positive outlook was consistent throughout our talk. With laughs in between each answer, the beauty of Zāna contrasted but is as equally important as Zora’s.
“I think there’s a lot of beauty in diversity. I definitely want more experimenting going into different things, opening different doors, figuring out things. I think that’s pretty much what life is, you’re just trying to figure things out. So, to do that you need to try different stuff. Don’t get stuck in one thing, you know. So, that’s basically where I’m at.”
Catch Zāna at her next show in New York on 12/8/18 at The Roxy Hotel, or 1/10/19 at Rockwood Music Hall. Zāna will also be participating in a contest, partnering with Wonderwama TV, for a chance for a selected fan to appear in her next video, “Can’t Hide.” Head over to Zāna’s Instagram to enter.