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Cairo-Based Singer Xena Elshazlii Reveals What It Takes To Become an Artist in the Digital Era

precious lessons to learn

In this current day and age, many could surmise that the best way to stumble across new artists and fresh music is through streaming platforms as their algorithms have become incredibly sophisticated and intuitive with time. In fact, it’s probably reaching the point where apps like Spotify and Apple Music can predict and understand our musical preferences and tastes better than we can ourselves. While the above may be true, nothing can really compete with coming across a random venue during a spontaneous stroll around a city, buying a ticket, sitting inside expecting nothing, and coming out stunned by the raw and unfiltered talent of an unknown singer that will soon rank amongst your most-listened-to artists on our phones. Such was the case with Xena Elshazlii, who recently introduced her sonic crafts to audiences in Beirut. 

Considered a promising up-and-comer in her native Egypt, the 24-year-old crooner is on a steadfast journey to the industry’s summits, cruising through genres while defying expectations each time she stands behind a mic, can it be to record or perform. With the deep-rooted desire to be heard and for her voice to beam as loud as it can, the Cairo-born and raised songstress has been carving a pathway of her own for the past decade. By nurturing her own talent, honing her craft, and tirelessly working towards becoming a name to look up to, the dream of making and leaving an indelible mark on the world of music is one that burns within her. 

“I’d say that my story began at the age of seven-years-old when Hannah Montana was airing at the time, and I was like, ‘wait, I want that too. I want to pursue music as well,’” Elshazlii told MILLE. “As I grew older, I started making covers online, which got me a couple of shows here and there around Cairo. I ended up releasing two songs that same year, then went pretty viral and joined a band, which went on for three years, until 2018 when I took a year-long hiatus and came back to music stronger and more creative than ever,” she revealed, pinpointing that moment as the real kickstarter of her career. 

Back to being solo and fully independent this time, Elshazlii, who released her first album, titled El Woroud, earlier this year, is what one could consider a cocktail of influences, with every note she sings paying tribute to her determined younger self as well as the people who swayed her sonic identity. 

“I get inspired by a lot of people, from Demi Lovato to Miley (Cyrus) when it comes to pop, or Aretha Franklin and Celine Dion for the more soulful and powerful vocal styles,” she admitted, emphasizing how there’s always something to glean from everyone that crosses your path as she constantly finds a purpose and a lesson to pluck from each person she meets.

As the conversation continued, it became increasingly clear how her journey has been one of growth, perseverance, and dedication as, in her own words “Music is everything, it’s my passion, it’s my job, It’s my hobby.” Musing on how her friends playfully mock her for not having watched any of the so-called classics of cinema because she’s so focused on music, Elshazlii admits, “It’s my thing and I want to do it for the rest of my life.”

Willing to put the time and effort in to develop a signature style that is uniquely hers while bolstering her chances of one day being recognized as one of the greatest ever, Elshazlii admitted having had a very analytical, almost scientific approach, to this particular pocket of the arts. What people refer to as inspiration could better be labeled as case studies for the indie singer as she has, almost literally, dissected every single aspect of the life and career of each artist she admires. 

“It was a lot of watching and studying every single move, every single note, every single thing that an artist does,” she confessed. “I would literally sit down for days and not watch anyone else other than Celine Dion. Let’s say she’s singing My Heart Will Go On— I’d literally start looking for different performances, from different years, countries and literally study it all,” she continued, praising the internet’s ultra-accessible nature for some of the progress she made along her journey in the realm of music.

“YouTube is seriously the best,” Eshazlii confidently claimed. “There are so many warmups that you can do that can expand your range. And there is one thing that actually helped me throughout my singing career, which was online vocal lessons. They weren’t face-to-face, but still helped tremendously. Ultimately, my piece of advice would be to just study what everyone does, don’t be full of pride, have an open mind, and just learn as much as you can,” she continued. 

Far from being classically trained, it does therefore take a great amount of self-awareness and confidence to ensure that you’re steering yourself towards the right direction. With no mentor or teacher, the 24-year-old creative revealed having to rely on her intuition and criticism to forge her own artistic path, embracing the role of both student and teacher at the same time. Immersing herself in experimentation, her unconventional trajectory has allowed her to explore various genres and styles, constantly pushing the boundaries of her creativity up to the point of her own satisfaction. 

“I’m very critical of myself, but it’s only because the audience is very hard to please,” she admitted. “For me, the main factor that helps me get through to the right path is feedback from the people. I want honest opinions and criticism as long as it keeps on giving you the push to go on,” she continued while placing the onus on making music she would listen to herself, hailing as a standard of its own as well. With such open-mindedness to comments and outside input, humility, and vulnerability seem to be powerful catalysts for her growth as an artist despite sometimes feeling drowned in negativity— something that she now knows how to better deal with as time went by and artistic maturity kicked in. 

“I used to get affected by people hating in my comments. I actually used to cry about it. To be honest, it still sometimes does (affect me) in my down days, especially when there are 15,000 people yelling misogynistic stuff. But I’d say that I just turned a blind eye to it now. I barely even pay attention to it anymore because it’s really rooted in hate rather than on an opinion they actually have,” she explained, adding how much leeway it provides her with now. 

“I do believe I’m very blessed to have been involved in this industry for so long that I know what to do and I know where to go. It takes a lot of time and training, falling down and making mistakes. There’ll always be people watching but that’s part of the deal. I still do beat myself up when I make mistakes, but at the end of the day, we’re all human. I know that people are now more open to not being so harsh on others as they once were, and I’d rather just use that to my advantage to keep on learning and progress,” she said. 

As to where all this studying and learning curves will take her, only the sky or a couple of Grammys seem to be the limit. As of right now, she explains having reached some of her initial milestones but is far from the ones she dreams of achieving.

“Ultimately, I want to win Grammys. Not just a Grammy, I want them in plural. And that’s because I know it’s not impossible. And if I just stay consistent with what I’m doing right now, I will hopefully get there.”

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