May 26, 2022 07:00 PM | by Mariam Youssef
Dana Salah: The Artist Who Defeated Every Challenge She faced, Even Her ADHD
Calling all the Spotify subscribers out there, we're shedding the light on a beautiful artist who has managed to capture our hearts with her emotional songs. You've probably seen her songs popping up throughout May on Spotify; you may have even listened to and loved some or all of them. Yes, you got it! She's Dana Salah, everyone...
Dana Salah, previously known as Arab Pop-Indie artist King Deco, started her career in Brooklyn. Her music and DJ'ing earned her praise from Nylon, Billboard, Wonderland, and others. After the success of her song "Castaway," she directed her music to connect with her Palestinian-Jordanian roots as a singer and songwriter. We brought to you some great information about Dana's career and personal life simultaneously. So, read on to get to know a little bit more about your favorite artist.
1. When did you find out that you wanted to be an artist?
I knew I wanted to sing at a very young age. I remember watching the Little Mermaid lose her voice and thinking, “I can sing for her!” I also remember my parents introducing me to the Sound of Music and always finding myself humming along. When I started to get older, around 17 and 18 years old, I started to feel I have something to say and to share and I saw I wanted to do that through music. I think that’s what being an artist is. I taught myself everything from writing, to recording, to production. With time, I started to peel more layers of my artistry. It was not only about music but about what I was writing about and how I wanted to translate my vision and my sound visually as well. It’s all about creating a world that people can escape to or just immerse themselves in - and that’s what I feel an artist is really about.
2. As you have Jordanian/Palestinian roots, how does this affect your music?
You know how they say you can take the person out of the place, but you can't take the place out of the person? It's exactly how I was feeling and what I was missing when I was making music in the U.S. I wasn't tapping into the cultural roots that were so embedded in me. But when I was actually in the U.S. (in Arab America Michigan!) I realized that I needed to. And it really brought everything together both sonically and visually. It allowed me to write from a much more authentic place and it opened me up to a genre of music I knew lived within our culture and I was able to play with it.
3. We know that creating a song is a very hard process, so how long does the process of creating a new song take?
It’s really different for each song. Mishta’a was a very quick process because I really wanted it to be about the songwriting and the emotion in the voice. Tan Tan was a different story - we wrote multiple choruses for it, tried out different production genres, and rewrote and reproduced it a bunch of times - so that took a little longer. For Weino, I had a very clear vision for how I wanted it to sound so it was really about finding the right way to communicate that to my producer Nasir AlBashir. And he just got it.
4. Since you care a great deal about women empowerment, how do your songs reflect that?
I think as women, we are multifaceted and I think it’s important for us to embrace that. We can be strong and maternal and soft and fierce all at the same time and being one doesn’t necessarily take away from being the other. I try to show an array of sides, voices and emotions in my music - from the vulnerability of Mishta’a to the foot-stomping strength of Harzaneh.
5. Can you tell us which of your songs is dearest to your heart? And why?
It’s really tough. I feel like Weino has a special place in my heart because for the first time I feel like the song (message and production) really represents me. I don’t like sustained chords and I really love space - each instrument comes in, does what it’s supposed to do and walks out. There was so much intention in that song from me, from the message, to the overall vibe to every specific sound. Mishta’a, on the other hand, is dear to me as a vocalist.
6. We learned that you use your ADHD as a trigger to write songs, can you share with us how this works? / How do you use ADHD positively?
I wish you guys could see my face right now (shocked, happy, and slightly taken aback). Haha I’m happy this is coming up because I’ve only recently started to understand it and started feeling comfortable talking about it.
So, I was diagnosed with ADD really young and it felt like a hindrance most of my life. Now, though, I actually feel incredibly empowered by it. I made a choice a few years ago to love and embrace that side of myself instead of constantly combating it by accepting it and trying to actually learn more about it by paying attention to my thoughts. I would reflect on when I lose focus and try to understand why I lose focus etc. Doing that made me realize that there was a sort of underlying mental and emotional rebellion and escape going on there. Whenever I didn’t want to hear something, I’d drift off. Whenever something brought up an emotional response, my attention would go elsewhere. Whenever something was difficult for me to understand, my mind would also turn away from that. It’s a type of mental escape for me, I think.
Ironically, it made me want to create a world to escape to through my music, visuals and artistry in general and let it be a place for people to escape to as well. So, whenever I catch myself drifting off into a daydream, I know there’s probably emotional gold that I could use to write a song. I also believe that because people with ADD drift off so much that they are able to access or tap into a theta state (the creative flow state that musicians, artists, and basketball players etc… always talk about) a little easier than most people. It’s great for creativity.
7. In one of your posts, you mentioned that you take breaks to focus on your health, what do you do to focus on your mental and physical health?
2020 was a difficult year. It was a year I really pushed myself to the limit in all aspects of my life. Whether it’s trying to shoot two music videos in 3 days (TanTan and Mishta’a), burn double in a class, or write 5 songs in 5 weeks. It only took taking some time off in April realizing the toll that had on me physically and mentally and then reaping so many benefits from taking that time to realize that pushing myself so much was not always the best approach and doesn’t always get the best results. I also realized it’s not a one-size-fits-all. What I realized works for me is trying to approach things from a place of calm and a place of ease. So, I meditate a lot, I go on long walks (sometimes outside but a lot of times on the treadmill where I get to discover new music, watch fashion shows, Netflix, documentaries and, of course, my guilty pleasure, Ted talks).
8. We noticed that most of your outfits are color-neutral, what attracts you to neutral colors?
It’s funny because the colors I wear on a day-to-day basis are neutral yet the clothes in my music videos are super vibrant. I’m drawn to neutrals during my day to day because I feel like it’s my job as an artist (when I’m not singing or performing) to listen and absorb what’s around me. I draw my inspiration from life and the things around me so on a day to day it’s not my turn to stand out or speak or take up a ton of space or attention. As artists, I really believe we’re the messengers. When it’s time to say what I want to say then the colors get loud I guess till then I’m just a fly on the wall. I’m actually realizing this for the first time!
9. Back to music, what are the instruments that you play?
My voice, Logic, a little bit of piano and a very little bit of guitar.
10. If Palestine was a person, what would you say to her?
I love you, you are so strong and you don’t deserve this. I don’t know why Palestine is a she to me.
11. Now you are the ambassador of the month for EQUAL Arabia Program by Spotify for May, can you tell us how this adds to your career?
It adds so much and ties everything together. I used to go by King Deco back when I was living in New York and for me calling a girl “King” was a gender EQUALizing term. Even in a deck of cards, the King always trumped the Queen. So, I feel like consciously and subconsciously female empowerment has been a huge part of my artistry so to be a part of EQUAL Arabia that represents that is such an honor, but it also helps deliver the message as well. My songs have a female empowerment undertone, but so do my videos with my girl gang. I’ve been fortunate in my life to be surrounded by a group of amazing girls that supported me throughout this journey - even when it got really tough. EQUAL Arabia Program is just a great acknowledgement of the work that we’re doing as women and that tap on the shoulder you need, appreciate, and work hard for. After all, we’re all looking for that platform to get our voices heard. I’m grateful!
12. Finally, What's your dream? And how do you work on achieving it?
To connect with and touch as many people as possible. Through my music, my story, and my art.
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