Elyanna's New Album Was Inspired By Kanye West & Julio Iglesias

On her debut album Woledto, the Arabic pop star creates a new global sound.

When Elyanna describes describes her debut album, Woledto, as music with “no limitations,” she says she means it in both a geographical and sonic sense. The nine-track record fuses Latin vocal melodies, heavy hip-hop 808s, and Arabic instrumentation for an energetic sound of tradition meeting modernity. The Palestinan-Chilean singer, who made her first stateside performance at Coachella 2023, is one of the leading figures of the rapidly growing Arabic pop scene, but she sees her music as more of a global exercise. “I was inspired by everything, I take in everything,” she tells NYLON. “I want to observe everything and learn from everything and put it in the art and the music.”

Kanye West, MIA, and Algerian singer Cheikha Rimitti all served as guiding lights for Woledto, which also pays homage to Elyanna’s heritage and childhood in Nazareth, Palestine, a place she can “never run away from,” she says. Below, Elyanna breaks down the many influences that shaped the project, like an old wedding recording of her grandfather, her brother’s piano compositions, and the idea of a free-spirited goddess, here to save the world.

Nazareth, Palestine

I'm Palestinian and part Chilean, and I was born and raised in Nazareth, Palestine. I would say all the elements [in my music] — the [Palestinian folk dance] dabkeh, these Arabic synths called the mijwiz, all these little details — I'm talking maybe not so directly about Palestine.

One song that shines the most for me is “Sad In Pali,” which means “sad in Palestine.” It's a very experimental song. I actually wrote in Palestine, and one of its biggest influences was my grandpa. We sampled him because we found this amazing video of him at a wedding, he was singing [a] zajal, it’s like a freestyle in Arabic. We sampled his voice on the track. So he was my only feature on this album, which is very special. It makes my mom very emotional every time.

Now, being so far away from home and everything happening to my people, to my hometown, it feels crazy. There's so much people don't know, and I feel like that's my motive: to use my art for the right message and show all the beautiful things about the culture.

Piano pieces

My brother is a pianist. Back home in Nazareth, his piano teacher would come and they would do a lesson, [and] I would always sit and watch them. [The] piano's my favorite instrument, and I feel like you can tell my music is very piano-inspired, because this is how my brother and I start every song. He'll be sitting at the piano at night, everyone asleep, and he just starts playing. We start creating melodies on it. That's mostly how we made all the tracks on this album.

One of my songs called “Kon Nafsak” is a melody my brother wrote on the piano. Every morning, he would be playing that piece, and I used to be obsessed with it. It's called “Delilah.” One day I was like, "Can we make this a song, please?" And we put lyrics on it. Now, it's one of my favorite songs.

Kanye West, M.I.A., Gesaffelstein & more

UMG Recordings

I feel like a lot of my influences were from all around the world. One of my biggest inspirations on this album was 808s & Heartbreak by Kanye. I love that album. There's something about hopping on a heartbeat and with the sad melody, that inspires me a lot. I love M.I.A. She's an Arab legend who broke barriers because she introduced jazz to the Middle East, which was rare. Lyrically, I'm inspired by her. My brother and I always listen to [French DJ] Gesaffelstein. We were inspired by a lot of hard sounds, aggressive, yet soft. Cheikha Rimitti, she's an amazing Algerian singer. We sampled her in one of the tracks called “Al-Sham.”

Julio Iglesias

I remember going to Chile every Christmas, and my grandma would play [Spanish singer] Julio Iglesias. I love him. I think melodically, I'm really inspired by [him]. A song like “Ghareeb Alay” or “Mama Eh” reminds me a lot of Chile. I don't think of Julio when I'm creating it, but naturally, what I grew up listening to is what influences me when we create.

A “planet-saving” goddess

Bethany Vargas

When it comes to [the visuals of Woledto], I imagine a goddess. She's not from this planet, but she's here to save the planet. I don't know where this character comes from, but my mood is a lot of cool nails. It's a lot of coins, white fabrics, curly hair with some braids, a hat with lace on it. It's a bunch of stuff I love. Fashion inspires me in a lot of ways when it comes to music. I want to introduce [people] to fashion that they don't have here.

Since I was young, I always said, “Just give me a piece of fabric and I'll make something out of it.” And it's all about that. It's all about simplicity and taking something small and using it in a different way. You can see on my album cover, I'm wearing two headpieces here. I'm just having fun, really.