Dana Hourani’s earliest musical memories were the Arabic anthems of Fairuz, Sabah, and Umm Kulthum her mum used to play on the car ride to school. The Sharjah-born, Beirut-raised, Dubai-based songstress is the daughter of artist Diana Hourani Zeineddine so creativity runs deep both in her nature and nurture. “Of course, being surrounded by art when you’re growing up subconsciously feeds you, but it was an advantage in a way you wouldn’t expect,” Dana reflects.
Dana describes her sound as honest, melancholic, emotive, melodic, and a bridge between east and west. Ironic then for an artist to whom freedom is so intrinsic, shortly after she released her debut single Ella Enta in April 2019, the world plunged into lockdown. “Actually, I was a lot more productive during the pandemic,” she admits. “I released almost all of my singles, and it actually gave me some time to focus on music, because a lot of noise around it was eliminated.” The risk paid off as her singles Lahza, Enti Ana, and Yay blew up on streaming platforms, and her version of the Arabic ballad Zuruni even hit the number one spot in Lebanon. “How starting my music career during a pandemic affected me in a negative way was that live shows weren’t an option for me. That’s all.” However, Dana’s hoping this will change with the release of her first album Ensanein in November 2021.
“In this album, I speak to these two beautifully opposing souls that live inside each and every one of us. The souls that make us feel sensually shy, courageously weak, and confidently insecure,” she reveals. “Not everybody should be under just one certain category,” she argues. “I get asked this question all the time, ‘What do you do?’ I never know how to answer because I can never say ‘I’m a singer’, because I’m more than that. I can never say, ‘I’m a mum’, because I’m more than that. Why do we categorise based on what we’re going through in the moment, when we can be so many things? We can go through so many different phases and we can be all of these people.” There it is again – Dana’s refusal to be boxed in that recurs like a leitmotif.
Indeed, this duality is a sentiment that is also deeply felt by Demna Gvasalia, Creative Director of Balenciaga. “I was bullied when I was young, so I dressed in a scary way when I was a teenager so people would not come close to me,” he revealed in an interview with WWD. “I was actually a fragile, hopeless romantic deep inside, but I didn’t look like that and it helped me to survive really… I realised that’s what fashion is for: It’s for yourself, first of all, and the way it makes you feel.” Dana can relate. “I feel like by nature, I’m more of a shy introvert at first. I mean, I’m confident but I’m shy. The only place I feel like I could really show my personality is through my clothes, because I’m not the type of person that is very outgoing. I don’t leave the house when I’m not working. And when I do, I’m not a very sociable person, because I’m an introvert. So I feel like I love to make up for that with the way that I dress. Does that make sense?”
She certainly made up for it in the leafy parks and kitsch cafés of Paris wearing Balenciaga Winter ’21 for the Middle East exclusive cover of the GRAZIA 7 Senses series. “I’ve grown to be more classic over the years but there is always some sort of a unique twist happening when I put basic pieces together – like unique cut-outs or a simple idea with an interesting slant. Balenciaga is the definition of basic with a twist. There’s always an oversized silhouette or something exaggerated in it, but it stems from a basic piece.” And perhaps this is Dana at her most authentic: not constrained by clothes, boundaries or expectations. Her mother’s art features haunting ghostly figures and according to Dana, “She paints her feelings in a very abstract way,” seemingly oblivious to the echoes of her own ethereal melodies, process and purpose until this moment. “That’s amazing. You just gave me a brilliant idea to use one of her paintings as cover art for one of my songs! I never thought to make the link.”
And now Dana is a mother herself, she’s parenting six-year-old Zoe in an equally bohemian way. “My husband creates borders, because I don’t know how to limit her in any way. I never grew up in that way, I never applied it to myself, so obviously I’m not going to know how to apply it to my daughter. I’m raising her the same way that my mum raised me, and she gets her limits from her dad, not from me.” It becomes a harmonious full circle to realise, then, that inspired and emboldened by the impassioned vocals of Fairuz, Sabah, and Umm Kulthum, and the strong voices and free spirits of their own mothers, there’ll be a new generation of daughters in the Arab world for whom the limit does not exist.