Watch the music video HERE.
We are delighted to publish this feature with Malek Hanna, a blue-eyed soul singer announcing his arrival on the LA music scene with the release of his debut single “Beautiful Stranger.” This is an artist to keep your eye on this year. Produced in collaboration with Camela Leierth – pop artist and co-writer for Katy Perry – “Beautiful Stranger” marks the culmination of years of growth and development for this Brooklyn born singer-songwriter, and the beginning of what will surely be his breakthrough year, having already been named “an artist to look out for” by Unique & Rare Magazine.
A lush and contemplative ballad that draws inspiration from Hanna’s Lebanese heritage, “Beautiful Stranger” questions and examines the concept of love in its myriad forms. In the reflective music video – directed by filmmaker and member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Ersi Danou and filmmaker/photographer Thouly Dosios – Hanna stars in three different roles, all walking a treacherous tightrope between fantasy and reality. The premiere coincides with the launch of Nadia’s Kids Inc., a non-profit formed by Hanna to honor his aunt and uncle, who both passed away from COVID-19 in their home of Aleppo, Syria, after having lived through the harrowing civil war of the past 10 years.
We spoke with Malek about his upbringing in Brooklyn, how his Lebanese heritage impacts his music, and his plans for the coming year. Read on below, and look out for more music from this breaking artist soon!
1) Malek, tell us a little bit about your background and upbringing. When did you start writing music?
I’m a New Yorker and proud of it! I was born and raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn – a residential neighborhood by the Verrazano Bridge. I have fond memories living there; playing stick ball on my uncle’s stoop, grabbing a pizza slice from my favorite pizza parlor – Ninos, attending the San Gennaro street festivals, going to the park to meet up with friends on the swings – being a kid amongst a heavily Italian, Irish, and Middle Eastern community gave me the grit to handle life with vigor. I always felt as though I had a competitive edge growing up in Brooklyn. I consider myself lucky having to call New York my home. My father was from Beirut, Lebanon and mother from Aleppo, Syria so I am a 1st generation American. Due to the civil war in Lebanon, my parents moved to the US and other family members scattered to other countries such as Germany, France, UAE and other parts of the US. Growing up, it gave us an excuse to travel frequently to visit family abroad and spend summers in the Mid-East and Europe. Growing up in a multicultural household and being able to converse and understand different languages and cultures was a big blessing but when I was younger, I didn’t always see it that way. When my mom made me a hummus sandwich at school, haha, I was embarrassed and wanted to be like all the other kids, I just wanted to fit in but always felt a bit out of place. So…I forced my mom to make me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead and I joined a lot of local sports activities like baseball, soccer, tennis and the swim team. I was pretty athletic as a kid and remember my 1st dream was to be a professional tennis player. Dreaming however, wasn’t always encouraged; being 1st generation and having relatively strict parents, there was a lot of pressure to be the best academically. They wanted me to be a doctor and quite honestly, it was the last thing I wanted to do. Since I was about 10 years old, I knew that I was a performer but felt I needed to keep it a secret because my parents wouldn’t approve. I was addicted to television and knew that I wanted to be like the people I saw on the screen performing. I would joke, play and be able to express myself more so outside of my immediate home. That time however did give me the desire to write; it was more like poetry or free write that led to creating melodies in my head and fantasizing about performing on stage. Nevertheless, my parents frequently had fun and lavish parties at the house and invited their neighborhood friends and colleagues. I remember always having to present myself properly and once asked about what I wanted to be, I would just regurgitate – I want to be a doctor, which was a complete lie. Anyhow, I digress…fast forward…my highschool years at Xavier in NYC gave me the creative outlet that I was so yearning for. It was an all boys private Jesuit school on 14th street; I remember having to wake up extra early so I can catch the subway from Brooklyn to Union Square. Those corridors in that school ignited a spark that I have till this day. I remember there were tryouts for the choir and I felt excited but also nervous; once I got there and I started to sing, it was as if nothing else mattered and I was floating on air, I felt fully alive. That was it…I was bit by the bug! Shortly thereafter, I started soloing at the church, getting lead roles in my highschool musicals, singing in the subway on my way too and from school and knew that is what I wanted and made me the most happy. At that time, my parents did not necessarily know that I was at drama rehearsal, I told them that the subway was late or that I was at, “science club” after school. All The while, I hired a private acting and singing coach with my allowance without them knowing…they blew up when I told them. Fastforward, I agreed to double major in Theater and Political Science at Fordham University to appease my parents and got a Masters in Media and Public Communications. That not being enough ha, I enrolled in ICU and got another degree in Culinary Management. I think at that point, my parents thought I would forget about my dream of being a performer but instead, I packed up and moved to LA. Overall, growing up in NYC was fun, and if it weren’t for the obstacles, I may not have been where I am now.
2) You have some Lebanese heritage but grew up in Brooklyn. How have those two cultures influenced your music and songwriting?
Being of Lebanese descent and growing up in Brooklyn influences my music and songwriting, as the fusion and richness of both cultures, rhythms, and sounds is something I like to create, as it truly tells my story and parallels who I am as an artist and as a person. In arabic music, there are neutral thirds while in wetserm music there are only major and minor ones. I want my music to represent me and the only way that is possible would be to incorporate and fuse these two worlds together into one. When you listen to Beautiful Stranger, you can hear the oud, for example – an ancient Arabic instrument. This instrument is reminiscent of my childhood, as my grandfather, Zaki Kneider, was a great oud player, amongst other instruments.
3) We love “Beautiful Stranger.” Can you tell us a little bit about the message behind the song?
Thank you so much! The message behind Beautiful Stranger ultimately is all about, “the search” and the recognition that the answers are ultimately within yourself. My intention with this song is to have people question, “this thing called love,” and its many forms. My inspiration for the song came from the need to connect, to be able to understand the power of love and all its forms.
4) You shot the music video for “Beautiful Stranger” in different locations around LA. What was the video shoot process like? Can you tell us anything about the video?
The filming process was a challenge! I had a shoe-string budget, a vision and a voice…I quickly put my producer hat on and started getting a team in place, all during Covid in Los Angeles, mind you. Nevertheless, overall, I am happy and grateful for my wonderful cast and crew. Ersi Danou and Thouly Dosios were my dynamite duo directors, Ted Hayash was a terrific DP and the cast was so supportive and encouraging. Acquiring permits, location scouting, scheduling, abiding by covid regulations etc was a lot to handle as the only producer on the project… on top of being the artist and performing. Due to Covid, locking in locations was probably the most difficult but by sheer tenacity, I was able to lock in the iconic Santa Monica pier. I hustled everyday to get food sponsors, freebies, waivers and would not take no for an answer. Funny side-note – my directors really wanted a full body manikin for the opening scene and finally a day before shooting I was able to get one; I drove to downtown LA and spotted one in a Korean market. I spoke with the owner basically in sign language since he and his wife didn’t speak much English and managed to have them agree to letting me use the manikin for the day with a $30 deposit. I guess they just trusted me, a random stranger….I off course returned it the next day after that day of shooting. It made me believe in humanity and the kindness of strangers. We shot for 4 entire days on the weekends and basically created a short film using iconic backdrops as the SM carrousel, downtown LA, Altadena and the LA river.
5) You’ve just released your debut single. What was the recording process like?
The recording process was fun! Working with a limited budget was a challenge but we made it work. After completing the final tweaks of the song with my writing partner, Raed Saade, I remember thinking…ok now studio time is going to be expensive, I have to find a way. I started thinking of who I can reach out too; my old roommate and friend Mikey Mike, who wrote for Rihanna and is an artist himself recommended – Steve Dresser who happened to have an in-home recording studio in his apartment in Koreatown. We met, vibed, got in the booth and layed down the vocals. I was in absolute bliss when I was in that room, despite it being 100 degrees since his AC went out and I was dripping sweat from head to toe. After laying the vocals and much deliberation with Steve and my producer, Xavier Cevrin who is based in Holland, we decided to add ancient instruments as the Oud with the acoustic and electric guitar to give a more worldly pop vibe. The writing process was a nice collaboration; prior to this song, I was not as confident with my songwriting but after encouragement from friends and industry pros, I just dove right in. Raed Saade, a fellow contestant and friend who was on the Voice with me, believed in me as a singer and supported me as a songwriter by contributing in co-writing Beautiful Stranger. We grabbed some beers, locked ourselves in my apartment and started brainstorming ideas, concepts, thoughts etc. Before I knew it, we had a nice rough draft in about an hour or so. It was all a learning experience for me, as prior to this, I performed on stage and was singing other people’s songs. I was thrilled to finally have something to sing and perform to claim my own!
6) We were so moved to read about the story behind Nadia’s Kids Inc. What are your plans for the non-profit in the coming years?
Thank you – it was something I felt I needed to do. There are so many children out there who suffer from PTSD and they simply do not have the proper resources to cope with the challenges they face as children, which then leads to major problems in adulthood. My plans in the coming years is to have an actual facility with different workshops and art programs that caters to their needs. In the meantime, I will actively be looking for qualified counselors, volunteers and artists to help in creating this program. My aunt Nadia and uncle Andreas will be missed, but never forgotten.
7) What can your fans expect from you this year?
I am in the process of collaborating once again with former Swedish pop star and Katy Perry collaborator, Camela Leierth on my EP that is set to be released sometime this year! While working on the EP, I have some really cool and exciting film projects and announcements in development, where I will be seen acting and singing. Stay tuned for more!!!
8) Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
I’m committed to expressing my artistry in different mediums, that I will be sharing in the coming years!