Photo taken by Carina Najia
All the way from Chicago, Illinois, the duo DRAMA, consisting of producer Na’el Shehade and singer Via Rosa, is bringing disco to R&B. Meeting in the recording studio by complete chance, Na’el and Via struck musical gold. The fluidity and power of Via’s voice coupled with her lyrics about love and loss is perfectly framed by Na’el house-y, dance-y, disco-esque production, making for what can only be described as happy-sad music.
Na’el and I first bonded over our shared Palestinian ancestry, and it was then that he kindly invited me to attend DRAMA’s London show at Electric Brixton. I was lucky to sit down with the duo before the show, to chat all things music.
Via and Na’el describe their writing process as organic and unplanned. Na’el’s beats exude a youthful energy, trendy, fun and playful yet in many ways nostalgic, drawing on 80s-inspired synth-sounds, a combination that makes it near impossible not to dance to. There is a clever contrast between Na’el’s production and Via’s melancholic lyrics, which makes it highly impressive that the coordination between the two is spontaneous. Via shares that she draws her inspiration from love, in all its forms. Notably, she explores self-love in 'As I Am' off DRAMA’s new EP, Till We Die, in a vulnerable yet relatable way, realizing only once her lover has shown his true colors that she deserves someone that loves her with no caveats.
A chemistry like Na’el and Via’s is hard to come by. Before DRAMA, Na’el was producing for various other artists, who had many requirements in mind when it came to the music they wanted, constantly asking him to tweak his production until it no longer felt authentic. As is the case with artists in any field, imposing rules to manage a producer’s creativity is a perfect way to ensure an uninspiring singer-producer relationship.
It was only once Na’el and Via met and decided to work exclusively with each other as DRAMA, at the spontaneous suggestion of a friend of theirs, that these creative barriers dissipated, and I think a large proportion of DRAMA’s success can be credited to the pair’s trust in each other; Na’el’s trust in Via’s songwriting and lyrics, and Via’s trust in Na’el’s production. Their specialty in different areas of the music production process allows them to tackle each song from different perspectives, with the help of each other’s fresh eyes.
Na’el shared that when DRAMA started planning their first tour, he didn’t even envision himself on stage. He thought that it would probably just be Via singing on stage alone, with his pre-recorded music playing as the backtrack. It was only when Via insisted that they had to share the stage that they thought of having Na’el play his music in real time on stage with Via. Witnessing this performance at Electric Brixton is where I saw Via’s vision. I was surprised to hear that at DRAMA’s first few shows, Via was too shy to dance on stage. Arguably the best artist at commanding the stage and working the crowd that I’ve ever seen live, she had the crowd in the palm of her hand. Performing everything off of Till We Die was incredible to watch. DRAMA brings lyrics to life at their shows, supported by a loyal fanbase that can see the authenticity and originality of their work.
Na’el and Via’s shared experience of being indigenous to their native lands is not only a feeling that they bond over, but a feature in their music, speaking to their authenticity as artists. The secret ingredient that makes their music so special is the trust that Na’el and Via share, and it is exactly at the intersection of their creative visions that you can find DRAMA; an authentic expression of who they are, and what they do.
DRAMA creates a place for the intersection between R&B and dance-pop, but that’s not what describes them best as a duo. DRAMA is your friends dragging you out to the bar even though you’ve just broken up with you boyfriend. DRAMA is dancing in the club after soul-wrenching heartbreak. DRAMA is for the people who chose to dance in the face of despair. For the people who love hard and fall fast, for the people who just want to be loved as they are.
Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor