Written by Max Jamie
Sitting editor: Eliza Marks
Photographs by Rafic
Short films by Ala’a Aby Qasheh
Story-line by Farah Hijazi
Styled and Art directed by Khalid Abdel-Hadi
Hair by Mahmoud Karajogly
Make-up by Nada Al-Agha
Nails by Jennybhie Endaya.
Stalker played Rand Beiruty.
Clothes by Karen Millen, and select vintage pieces (jewelry and dresses) from Hana’s mother.
Location Hana’s grandmother’s house, Amman, Jordan
Embarking a game of chase, she left her stalker’s soul filled with rapture. Lolita was the name, and her admire was left to watch her from afar, as she played freely in her slingbacks, bright shades, pearls, and floral printed heart. . Obsession was the only rule that governed this game of the one-sided and creepy summer romance that My.Kali captured, leaving spectators with hints of a story their imagination would have to complete. How does one fall in love with Hana Malhas, the acoustic singer-songwriter, folk-pop artist?
And who would argue with our concept? The singer is everybody’s crush, everybody’s wishful-sin! She’s the type you would fall for while waiting in line at the supermarket line, deeply and for seemingly no reason. You just want to lean in and smell her hair, follow her eyes, or feel her cupid lips. Yes, she’s the type to stalk.
One of the first things Hana was concerned about was that people might perceive her in the wrong way, as the character she’s she plays for My.Kali. She has an urge to remain loyal to her image and her music, and to show others the true Hana Malhas. But we are glad she agreed to play the part, because no one can act the part of “Lolita” better than her.
Hana is informal and comfortable with herself, and interviewing her was no hard task. One tea cup into the conversation, and we were already chatting effortlessly like old friends catching up. She has this natural ability to make you feel like an old friend. There is no acting and no pretending, here – it is simply her grounded and wonderful self.
But don’t be fooled by her calm and soothing voice. The singer is incredibly energetic, like a raging cup of vitamin-C pulling you up and down, here and there, right and left! You could imagine her as a trainer in spinning class with one of those Britney-like microphones, yelling, “LET’S GO!!!” She says that, “The biggest misconception anyone can have about another person is that they are one-dimensional. People see the one thing they want to.”
She continues, saying, “Being an old school kind of girl myself, I find it difficult to accept today’s music, commercial music to be specific. I don’t usually listen to this millennium’s music!” We can hear this distance when listening to her captivating song “How We Love.” The track, from her EP Hana Malhas and The Overthinkers was one of five nominees in the Folk/Singer-Songwriter Song category of the Independent Music Awards. She told Rolling Stone [ME] that It’s a slow-burning tale of the “aftermath of the final fight in a relationship,” picking through the “rubble, dust, debris and sadness.”
Social media is the hot new trend all over the world, and addiction to it is escalating across ages and cultures. As a musician, how does social media influence or affect your progress in the music industry? And when does it get dramatic?
I don’t know if social media affects progress in the industry as much as it addresses a need to connect. I mean sure, it gives you visibility and spreads pretty quickly, and if that happens at the right time in the right place, it can definitely snowball into something big. For someone like me, it’s a great tool to stay in touch with audiences in Amman or the region when I’m in the US, and vice versa. It can even be a catalyst to artistic expression if you get creative with what you decide to post. But in the end, it’s just another medium to share your art and personality, and to find people who resonate with that.
Social media is what you make of it. I just try to make sure I’m having fun without getting overwhelmed. Personally, I don’t buy into online personas/images that are staged or forced. I try to keep whatever I post authentic to who I am or the art I choose to present. Also, I don’t want to spend more time on social media than I do on my music.
But let’s be real, I’m an instagram addict, and I do stalk my exes. I just can’t seem to get on board with hashtags.
We heard about your recent addiction to smartphones! How is that going for you? Is it affecting your social skills like it usually does with others?
Definitely. I’m working on it. The only time I will leave my phone behind is if I’m heading out to sea… literally.
You are constantly traveling between the States and Jordan, how do you adjust yourself to fit back in each time and place? They are two different cultures and two different worlds. It must be hard to settle in both here and there, no?
Walks! They’re so underrated. It’s a great way to re-adjust and absorb the sights, sounds, and scents that surround you. I am ridiculously emotional about appreciating every place I am in… even the parts I don’t particularly like. Also, friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic keep me grounded and well-fed.
We’re so curious about this vintage travel suitcase (the bags seen in the photo with the dolls) you carry around everywhere! Are you on the run? What do you have in there?
I’m always on the run, metaphorically, and I do feel like a nomad at times. But psychoanalysis aside, I’m used to carrying gear and “just-in-case” items wherever I go. You never know when you’re going to need a guitar tuner, an orange, or a good pair of running shoes. A regular handbag just doesn’t cut it in my world. So… no mystery, just practicality (or paranoia, depending on your perspective).
But I do go through phases, and selection is based on mood and context. For a few months last year while I in Atlanta, it was a neon green carry-on suitcase with wheels. This summer in Amman, it was the vintage suitcase you saw when we met. For the past few weeks in Ann Arbor, it’s been a red backpack. Once I pick something out though, I carry it everywhere.
Once it got me past ICU doors in a hospital. I was told it looked official and intimidating. Another time, a group of young school girls giggled behind me, they mistook me for a foreigner in Amman and made fun of how old school it looked. Co-workers have picked it up on their breaks and pretended to be running after a train. I was once asked to leave it behind in the car when joining friends at the bar. Naturally, I walked in, suitcase in hand, and made sure it got its own seat at the table.
I can’t believe I just talked that much about the bags I carry. I don’t even want to know what that means.
You mentioned that there is an ongoing love story between you and Jabal Amman. How did that come about? Should the fans feel jealous?
Like all great love stories, it’s an on and off relationship. I don’t know exactly how it started, but I’m guessing it goes back to those walks I mentioned. There’s something dirty and urban, yet also ancient, musical, broken, and hopeful about Jabal Amman. It’s hard to resist.
“Hana Malhas, a great human being, a genius musician, gorgeous, and adorable. I know Hana since she was 6 years old, I have always had a crush on Hana, I still do, and always will, (stalker shway) hahaha. She’s someone you’re proud to know: a very talented human being with a lovely family that I am honored to know.”
– comedian Wissam Tobeileh
Speaking of relationships, what are the ultimate relationship breakers according to you?
Instinct. Everything else can fall into or out of place if you know in your gut whether someone fits. If that instinct wavers inside you at any point, nothing you do will keep you together. It’s like realizing that your magnetic energy fields that don’t attract.
Is there a stereotype about you that you’re trying to fight? What’s the biggest misconception about you?
The biggest misconception anyone can have about another person is that they are one-dimensional. People see the one thing they want to. I don’t know which dimension I’m mistaken as having most, only because I pay little attention to surface impressions. There’s no image I’m trying to fight off or to be for that matter. I just trust that if and when people interact with me, they will see the full picture. Plus, I have so many dualities, it’s difficult for people to pin me to one thing.
You come from a famous school for talented and gifted students: Jubilee Institute- KHF. Most graduates of this school turn out to be Doctors, Engineers, Pharmacists, etc. because of pressures from parents and others. How did you rebel against that and followed your dream to be a musician? How did your parents support you through that choice?
I’d like to tell you that I’m a cool, trail-blazing rebel, but it was actually my parents that pushed me to do music as a kid and made sure it was part of my education growing up. I don’t know if they ever thought I’d be doing it professionally, but they’re really supportive of my music. No rebelling was necessary. Even when they think I’m crazy, I’m lucky to have their support. Even when we disagreed, they always respected the decisions I’ve made and given me the freedom to explore and assert my independence. It helps that I am headstrong and stubborn, but most of the credit goes to them, not to some revolution I took up. Most importantly, they’re always willing to listen to the awkward vocal warm ups and shaky first drafts of new songs. Trust me, that’s real support. When I am lost in life, they don’t judge, and they also don’t smother. They are my haven and my favorite company.
How long did it take you to know what you wanted to do?
It took me awhile to realize what I wanted to do. I didn’t have it all figured out right after school, and I still don’t. I work on instinct a lot, and also at my own pace. I don’t like to be rushed, and I don’t care how much time it takes. At some point I just knew I wanted music to be a major part of my life, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. I got my MBA at the same time that I joined a band, while also working a full-time day job. This, of course, meant that I had absolutely no social life during that time. Now I do what works for me – focusing on music while balancing other freelance business projects that pay the bills. Nothing is as fulfilling to me as working on music – performing live or writing.
I just started a new concert series in Amman called Bala Feesh, that showcases local and regional independent Arab artists. You should come to the next show!
Your photo shoot was Inspired by the story of ‘Lolita’. Did you feel any relation to the character, that the magazine had asked you to portray?
Kali’s a charmer and a trickster. I sort of thought my photo shoot would have a different, tamer, theme, but he eventually persuaded me to try something different. The artistic elements of the photos he envisioned intrigued me. As for relating to the character, well, we definitely don’t have the same taste in clothes, but she does have a sense of imaginative playful solitude that I can relate to.
Do your songs usually tell true stories inspired by personal experience? Is your songwriting lean more towards fiction or memoir?
For me, when it comes to lyrics and their melodies, the most well-crafted songs are the ones any listener can relate to. They are the ones that capture a human experience and deliver emotion, but without coming across as stale or cliché.
I think songwriters should write about whatever moves them. I like it best when the words, chords, grooves, phrasing, arrangement, and vocal lines all find that magical balance between simplicity of form and emotional content to produce songwriting genius. Some of the songs that have best represented that for me are: Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity”; James Vincent McMorrow’s “If I had a Boat”; Ellie Goulding’s cover of the Weeknd “High for This”; Adele’s “Hometown Glory”; Brandi Carlile’s “Shadow on the Wall”; Bastille’s “Oblivion”; Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”; Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” and also James Blake’s cover of it; The XX’s “Shelter”; Thom Yorke/Radiohead’s “Last Flowers”; Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love’”; Ray LaMontagne’s “Empty”.
“She’s a bundle of smart craziness, lovely tunes, and beauty. I absolutely love Hana Malhas.”
– Wissam Tobeileh
Do you listen to Arabic music, and if so, whose music do you listen to the most? And, who would you like to do a cover for, maybe an acoustic?
I mostly listen to contemporary indie Arab artists. Souad Massi is a favorite, and I’m currently checking out Rima Khcheich for the first time. But a classic that I return to over and over is Asmahan.
There was a Soap Kills phase a while back, and I really wanted to do an acoustic cover of one of their electronic tracks, but never got around to it. I once did an indie cover of Ya Msafer Wahdak for Abdel Wahhab. I think you should make me a mix tape of your favorite Arabic tracks, who knows what that would inspire.
Your music is quite personal and emotional and we can easily relate to it. Your latest song ‘How we love’ brushes upon that feeling. What’s your stand on this particular emotion?
Out of everything you’ve asked, this might be the most personal question. I’m not sure how to answer it without feeling exposed. Sadness is like fire. It’s such a powerful layered emotion for me, one that deserves respect. It draws you in, and there can be an odd comfort in it. It’s solitary, but not isolated, because you can’t fully feel love or happiness without it. It can balance you out, but you don’t want to stare too long, or stand too close to the flames.
We are in the 21st century, the world is advancing at high speed, cultures changing, worlds colliding, and we still have gender issues and sexism in Jordan. What are your personal views on gender expressions?
Those are two separate issues, no? (we know they’re separate Hana, it was a trick Q! Passed!) People fear what they don’t know. If it’s unfamiliar, there’s a tendency to assume it’s bad. Gender expression – conforming or alternative – is just a way to feel comfortable in your own body. No one should dictate that for you. There is no right or wrong here.
Alternative gender expression is also a healthy way to question social norms, because norms by definition don’t allow for diversity. Similarly, combating sexism and promoting gender equality can only strengthen a community; individuals that respect each other despite their differences can then connect on more productive platforms of creativity and development.
In Jordan, specifically, anything that is different is automatically vilified because there’s an ignorant link made between ‘different’ and ‘deviant.’ I think the only way something different or new can be upgraded from being labeled as a devil-worshiping abomination (remember project pen coverage in Jordanian national newspapers?) to a healthy form of accepting diversity, is if people take the time to get to know each other without judgment and fear. I don’t think it helps that we have institutions that perpetuate ignorance.
Many songs are vague toward its meaning or apathetic for the commercial sense, but mostly general. We know the types of music that appeals to LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual/Transgender, Questioning/Queer) people, but where’s the music that concerns them? Where do they fit in?
If you’re asking about the intersection of music and politics – there have always been songs that represent political and social messages ranging from promoting civil rights, to anti-establishment, to anti-war, to fighting oppression and poverty, etc, both in the west and the Middle East. And there are songs out there today, more recently, that, in the same vein, deal with LGBTQ themes, calling for empowerment and acceptance. More importantly, there are many highly successful musicians that have come out openly as gay, whose music may not deal with LGBTQ-specific issues, but give context to that larger social message simply by being out, whether they write love songs, political anthems, or move-your-feet dance music. So my point is, the music and message are out there, but it’s a matter of finding what you like.
Would you ever sing at a gay wedding if you were asked to? What would you sing, what would you think the perfect song would be?
I’ve been to so many weddings, both gay and straight, and I have to admit, weddings are not my favorite type of party in general. I just keep thinking of all the money and preparation that goes into just one lavish party that I get so much anxiety. But, to answer your questions: (a) I’d be honored if I were asked to sing at any wedding, gay or straight, as long as it’s part of the ceremony itself, and no one should expect my music to get people to a dance floor, and (b) the song should be whatever best represents the couple themselves.
Watch MyKali Magazine‘s mini-film of ‘Stalking Lolita’ for singer Hana Malhas
The Hunger Issue! MyKali Magazine’s July/August 2013 official cover, featuring indie-singer and the hungry Hana Malhas (Hana Malhas Music Page), who is the magazine’s latest summer stalking project… Starring in an urban Lolita photo series! Hana is wearing a man’s sailor shirt, from Retro, worn as one shoulder piece. Printed head scarf from Abdali (flee market). Make-up by Nada Alagha Make up Hair by Mahmoud Karajoghly Cover design by Atef Daglees Creative directing and styling by Kali