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Mayssa Karaa

Mayssa KaraaMayssa Karaa, born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1989 is a Lebanese American singer-songwriter currently based in Los Angeles, California. She is the daughter of Andre Karaa, a civil engineer and Najwa Karaa, who works with numerous charitable organizations assisting people in need. Mayssa has a younger sister named Rayya.

She was the featured vocalist on the Arabic version of White Rabbit on the American Hustle Soundtrack, which was nominated to the Grammy Awards as "Best Compilation Soundtrack" for Visual Media in 2015.

She's also recently had a song Hayati featured in one of the biggest movies in India Chekka Chivantha Vaanam’s soundtrack produced by Oscar-winner AR Rahman which has become a major hit in Bollywood when it hit #1 on Apple Music India.

She has recently launched the first single Call Me A Stranger and music video of her full-length English solo debut, Simple Cure which was to be released in June of 2019.

Mayssa began singing at the age of seven. She attended the French Jesuit Catholic school “College Notre Dame do Jamhour”. It was here that her love of performing blossomed when her choir director selected her out of 100 singers to solo at the year-end concert.

Mayssa KaraaKaraa went on to attend the Conservatory of Beirut, studying vocal performance, piano, and music theory. During this time, she also performed across Beirut, singing at events for non-profit charities, including Lions Club, UNESCO, the Red Cross and The Lebanese School of the Blind and Deaf.

In 2006, Lebanon was again embroiled in conflict, so Karaa and her family moved to Boston, Massachusetts. In Boston, Mayssa followed in her father's footsteps and studied civil engineering. But, on the eve of graduating, her father encouraged her to pursue her vocal talent.

In 2008, she enrolled in the Berklee College of Music where she submerged herself into different genres of music including pop, rock, middle Eastern, Eastern European music and classical opera. As a result, Mayssa performs in multiple languages including English, Arabic, Persian, Italian, French, Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek.

Karaa began studying Arabic music under composer and instrumentalist Simon Shaheen while in her final year at Berklee, and soon became a guest vocalist in a few of his concerts in the United States and Canada.

She was featured in a PBS special about the life of the great tenor “Enrico Caruso” filmed in Naples, Italy, titled Enrico Caruso: His Life, His Music, His City featuring Italian Tenor Pasquale Esposito - with whom she toured in the United States singing Italian Opera. The documentary also featured world-renowned singer Placido Domingo.

She graduated from Berklee in 2012, and that year joined the Berklee World Strings Orchestra to sing a Persian piece The Passion of Rumi by Hafez Nazeri, before touring with the group to perform in a number of American cities.

Mayssa KaraaKaraa sang the Arabic version of "White Rabbit" on the American Hustle Soundtrack, which was released on Sony Classical in 2013, a psychedelic song originally by The Great Society (recorded 1966) and made famous by American band Jefferson Airplane, who released it in 1967.

Karaa was in Beirut at the time without access to a studio, so she recorded her audition on her iPhone. A week after her audition Karaa was flown to Los Angeles to record the track produced by Mark Batson.

The song is used in the scene where Victor Tellegio (played by Robert DeNiro) reveals he can speak Arabic, and it is the only song recorded specifically for the film. Heather Phares of Allmusic called Karaa's interpretation "otherworldly" - stating that the track "is so striking that it's one of the finest songs on an album packed with big names." The Los Angeles Times stated that her version “outdoes the original."

American Hustle went on to win a Golden Globe and was nominated for several Oscar Awards. Mayssa performed the song at the film's premiere in several cities, including the Dubai International Film Festival, where it premiered in Dubai.

In February 2014, Lebanon’s Cultural Minister Gaby Layoun gave Lebanon's National Cultural Award to Karaa at the American Hustle premiere held in Beirut. Layoun stated:

Mayssa Karaa“She has created a significant artistic bridge between our culture and audiences around the world. She has made an impact both in Hollywood and as a role model for young women here and abroad. In a world filled with sad days, this is one that brings us great joy and pride for Lebanon.”

International families might identify her with “The Arabic Alphabet Song” from Iftah Ya Simsim the first international co-production of the American children's television series Sesame Street created in the Arab world which generated 27 million YouTube views. She’s worked on 2 other songs with them Children are the World and The Four Seasons.

Fusing Arabic influences into Western music is Mayssa’s forte: notable recordings in her catalog include a version of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb accompanied by the band’s Scott Page.

Mayssa traveled to Detroit, Michigan to honor Rock & Roll Hall of Fame legend Bob Seger. Fronting a band organized by the distinguished producer Don Was, she performed a haunting version of Seger’s Turn the Page in both English and Arabic during the 22nd Annual Concert Of Colorsin 2014 at the Orchestra Hall in Detroit, Michigan.

In 2018, one of her originals, Broken Lines was published on the NOW 66 best compilation album among other top 2018 hits by artists like Dua Lipa, Camila Cabello, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5 and others. It was distributed by Universal Music USA. The Knockturnal Magazine said "the song finds cosmopolitan space somewhere between Florence Welch and Dua Lipa."

She's also recently had a song Hayati featured in one of the biggest movies in India Chekka Chivantha Vaanam’s soundtrack produced by Oscar-winner AR Rahman which has become a major hit in Bollywood when it hit #1 on Apple Music India.

Mayssa KaraaShe has recently launched the first single Call me a stranger and music video of her full-length English solo debut, SIMPLE CURE released in June 2019.

Karaa was psyched about all the nominations that the film American Hustle received and was honored to have been a part of it. And just how did Mayssa Karaa get to be a part of it?

Well, it started with a phone call from Dawn Elder, a music and PR manager based in Los Angeles. Elder first heard about Mayssa Karaa through Simon Shaheen, a Palastinian oud and violin player. Karaa and Shaheen had toured the US together.

Dawn Elder called Karaa and asked her to audition for the song. But Karaa was in Lebanon and didn't have access to any instruments or a studio, so she recorded it on her iPhone and sent it to Dawn Elder and that was enough for Mayssa Karaa to be hired.

Susan Jacobs, the “American Hustle”‘s music supervisor, spoke about the creation of White Rabbit in Arabic.

“I tried the original Jefferson Airplane version early in the editing process. David O. Russell liked what the song did for the scene’s arc, but was always hoping that as it’s a ‘60’s song, we might come across a ‘70’s song that worked equally well. That turned out to be a very tall order.

As David likes to say, “Many have been there before, trying and failing to replace the song. It’s tough to beat. The song has so much drama, but it’s also very simple.”

Mayssa Karaa“I had invited writer and record producer Mark Batson to the edit room to show him some scenes that were still open for consideration for new music. I showed him “White Rabbit” to see if he had ideas for an alternative. He immediately replied, “I ain’t touching that song; it’s too good.”

He then suggested I look outside the English language. That was the “ah ha” moment, which evolved into covering the song in Arabic.

“Mark agreed on the spot to be the producer if I could find a singer. I searched for Arabic singers, finding many exciting voices but none in the US. Time was very short, already November 1st. One artist that I loved, based in Paris, Souad Massi, had a manager, Dawn Elder, based in Santa Barbara."

"Getting to know Dawn was the luckiest break. She threw her heart and soul into the translation and also managed a girl based in Boston. This is how we met the wonderful 23-year-old Mayssa Karaa, fluent in English and Arabic, among other languages, with a beautiful and strong voice."

"She had sung acapella into her iPhone, from Lebanon where she was finishing up a tour. We knew immediately from her iPhone demo that she was going to be great. A week later she came to Los Angeles and cut the song.

"In the film, we stayed very true to the original. Mark also created a fun hip-hop version. We’re going out to clubs later with re-mixes and various fun dance tracks."

Growing up in Lebanon, Mayssa was trained in classical music. While she loved singing, a future in civil engineering had been her life plan. But, it was the sage advice of a French conductor that guided her to a professional music career.

Mayssa Karaa“He told me, ‘When you meet God he’s going to tell you, ‘I gave you a gift--what did you do with it?’ That was the turning point in my career. Fortunately, my dad had already applied to Berklee College of Music in Boston for me and had an audition set up.”

About Simple Cure, Mayssa says that most of her lyrics have had their origins in conversations. “I would speak with my producer Richard Jacques, tell him something that I remembered, and we would come up with the lines and hooks to relate these stories.” When you put all the songs of the album together, you will understand the full story that lays behind.

The story Mayssa tells on Simple Cure? “I went into the studio angry,” she remembers. “I had been in the U.S. for 11 years, almost half of my life, but sometimes I feel like I am in between two places, like I have lost a part of my identity.

Every time I meet someone who doesn’t know about my part of the world, I am compelled to tell them about the richness of my culture and traditions.” After sharing these emotions with her producer, he suggested that she turn these truths into lyrics. “Richard turned my anger into creativity.”

In Call Me Stranger - “Tell me which land shall I call home? The one beneath my feet or the one across the ocean?” - she knows what it's like to have a foot in 2 worlds, born in Lebanon and yet living in America, her songs range from piano based simplicity to epic electronic orchestration.

Simple Cure speaks to finding peace through the miraculous power of inner strength, even in the chaos of a modern world. As MAYSSA sings, “Step in the air, breathe in the stars, the simple cure is every heart.”

Mayssa KaraaWith the U.S. as her current homebase, Mayssa, who sings in nine languages, has traveled the world performing music in a fusion of east and west, with key performances in palatial settings for the L.A. Philharmonic, as well as in the United Arab Emirates, in Belgrade, Serbia, at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, at the UNESCO in Paris, and stateside for featured concerts at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Mayssa says that it was never an intention to come to the U.S. and live inside of a bubble. “I came here to expand, to tell others about my culture and learn about theirs."

www.mayssakaraa.com

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Discography

Singles
Incomplete list of songs featuring Mayssa Karaa
Year Song title Album Role Label
2013 "White Rabbit" (Arabic) American Hustle Soundtrack Vocals Sony Classical
2017 "Comfortably Numb (Middle Eastern Version) feat. Scott Page Comfortably Numb (Middle Eastern Version) feat. Scott Page Vocals (Eponymous Label)
2018 Broken Lines NOW That’s What I Call Music, Vol.66 Vocals and co-writer Universal Music Group
2018 "Hayati" Chekka Chivantha Vaanam Soundtrack Vocals Sony Music India
2018 "Call me a stranger" Simple Cure Vocals and co-writer Soundrifft records

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