Dana Zeera’s Poetic Journey

BY Alex Aubry / Feb 21 2017 / 17:41 PM

One half of London-based band, The Straylings, the Bahraini-Austrian singer-songwriter talks to Bazaar about transcending labels on the eve of releasing her new album

Dana Zeera’s Poetic Journey
Todd Macintire

On her multi-cultural background:

“Looking back I do think my mixed heritage has influenced my work but not overtly. On my mother’s Austrian side, there is a long established history of classical music which we absorbed as children,” says Dana, noting that her Bahraini father, a physician, is also a classically trained pianist. “He began playing the piano when he was sent to Beirut at fifteen to complete his high school and later study medicine. Music became a big part of his education, a passion that he instilled in us from an early age. As a result all my brothers and sisters play some kind of instrument.”

On how her Bahraini-heritage influenced the lyrics and video for a particular song:

“The starting point for Arcadian Moon, were my earliest memories of Bahrain before the age of ten. There was a time when it was a much greener place, before massive development began to physically alter the Island,” says Dana of the song, whose video includes vintage film footage of pearl divers, traditional fishing dhows, oil tankers and areal views of coastlines formed by land reclamation. “There is an element of nostalgia to the song, but it also touches on the environmental costs of rapid development, as well as a loss of identity and community. Bahrain was known as the land of a million palm trees, and not long ago one could still find plantations dotted throughout Manama, which have disappeared to make way for apartment blocks. It’s also a nostalgia for a time when life moved at a much slower pace, and reflects the kind of rapid urbanisation that is occurring all over the Gulf.”

On how travel influences her music:

“As an artist, it’s important for me to be exposed to different perspectives and ways of thinking, which I find conducive to songwriting,” says the Bahraini-Austrian artist, whose most memorable experience was a road trip across the United States. “We began in Atlanta, traveled down the Mississippi River and visited Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate in Memphis, Tennessee. New Orleans’ French Quarter was also an unforgettable experience as music is such a big part of the city’s fabric. The energy there is so palpable that you don’t need to go inside a venue to hear great music. We saw a lot of live bands while there performing outdoors with French horns, saxophones and drums.”

Todd Macintire

On the importance of live music venues:

“I enjoy the process of recording and crafting a new album, but there is also a lot that goes into getting our work out there and tours are an integral part of that process,” says the songwriter, who enjoys performing in front of a live audience. Over the years the band has headlined at music venues and festivals across the UK, including the Scala; a former cinema from the 1920s near the Kings Cross railway station in central London. “I loved performing at Ladyfest in Bristol, which is a celebration of women in the arts. It was incredibly inspiring to be amongst a group of talented artists and performing in front of an appreciative audience,” recalls Dana, noting the role live music venues have long played in nurturing generations of artists. “In the last ten years we’ve seen a number of important music venues close down due to lack of funds, which is unfortunate as they served as spaces for songwriters, bands and musicians to experiment, grow and develop an audience for their work. It was a way of building a community around music.”

On releasing an album on their own record label:

“Although we don’t have access to the same kinds of budgets and resources that an established record label could provide, we really thought carefully about the kind of music we wanted to put out there. It had to be substantive and we felt the need to create an album that honestly reflects what we want to say artistically without compromise. A lot of effort goes into these songs that it was never about producing hits, so much as building a body of work that connects us to an audience.”

Read Alex Aubry’s full interview in the February issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia, available on iPad and in-store now.