Elissar Zakaria Khoury, commonly known as Elissa, is a Lebanese best-selling recording artist and one of the most prominent Arab women. Elissa is known for her distinct style of music which combines classical Arabic music (and lyrics) with elements of Western music and mostly relies on love ballads.
Elissa has left her mark on the Arabic pop music industry through her popular romantic musical style, which has earned her the title “Queen of Romance”. Having sold over 30 million albums, Elissa was the highest-selling Middle Eastern artist for 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010. Accordingly, in 2005, 2006, and 2010 she received the World Music Award for Best Selling Middle Eastern Artist.
Additionally she has collaborated with regional and international musicians including Ragheb Alama, Cheb Mami, Fadl Shaker, Chris DeBurgh, Christina Aguilera, and Gérard Ferrer. Since 2013, Elissa has also been a judge on the television show The X Factor Arabia.
Elissa was born to a Lebanese father (Zakaria Khoury) and a Syrian mother (Youmna Suud), in Deir el Ahmar, 12 km northeast of Baalbeck in the Bekaa Valley. At the age of 10, Elissa began participating in social events and had a role in the kids’ festival at Mont la Salle, which was hosted by Sandy Oshakji. As she grew up, her passion developed and she grew more and more involved in the art scene by acting in theater plays, namely with well-known songwriter Wassim Tabbara and later with the “Théâtre de 10 Heures”.
Having studied Political Science at the Lebanese University, she had a natural knack for her first play’s tendency for political critique, and her talent, though in its infancy, left a lasting impressing on that initial audience. Her theatrical beginnings opened way for her to experiment with other modes of expression and soon found herself singing in front of audiences.
In 1992, she participated and won a Silver Medal in “Studio Al Fan”. The show was broadcast on LBCI, one of the best known TV stations in the Middle East. Following this success, Elissa began performing in concerts, driven by her tireless determination until 1999, when Lido Productions released her first album, Baddy Doub, distributed by EMI. Elissa’s debut on the commercial music scene was an event of considerable significance. The album was a success, and featured a smash hit with famous French gypsy artist, Gerard Ferrer. The release of “Baddy Doub” brought the musical talent straight to Cannes, where she participated in the International Music Festival of 2000.
Following her success at the International Music Festival, Elissa released her second album, We Akhertha Maak, which included the immense hit duet, “Betghib Betrouh”, sung with Lebanese superstar Ragheb Alama. The emerging singer’s third album, Ayshalak, was also quite successful and its musical quality was considered a big leap forward in her music career. In the making of “Ayshalak”, Elissa took advantage of the significant momentum gained during her previous two albums and managed to surpass expectations at an amazing rate. The video clip of the album’s hit single and namesake was filmed in Paris, directed by French director Fabrice Begotti. Elissa was officially dressed and made up by Christian Dior Paris for the video, marking the first time Dior collaborated with an Arabic artist.
1970–92: Early life and struggles
1992–99: Career beginnings
In 1992, she participated and won a Silver Medal in “Studio El Fan”.
2000–03: W’akherta Ma’ak and Ayshalak
Following her success at the International Music Festival, Elissa released her second album, “We Akhertha Maak”, which included the immense hit duet, “Betghib Betrouh”, sung with Lebanese superstar Ragheb Alama. The emerging singer’s third album, “Ayshalak”, was also quite successful and its musical quality was considered a big leap forward in her music career. In the making of “Ayshalak”, Elissa took advantage of the significant momentum gained during her previous two albums and managed to surpass expectations at an amazing rate. The video clip of the album’s hit single and namesake was filmed in Paris, directed by acclaimed French director Fabrice Begotti. Elissa was officially dressed and made up by Christian Dior Paris for the video, marking the first time Dior collaborated with an Arabic artist. Hot on the heels of the well-received third album, Elissa continued her fiery path and sent shock waves through the music scene when she teamed up with the world-famous Irish singer Chris De Burgh. The collaboration of these two talents resulted in the historic duet, “Lebanese Nights”. The hit song was included on De Burgh’s 2002 album, “Time is Everything”. 2002 brought Elissa more consecration as she was awarded with the Murex d’Or award for Best Female Artist. And her, “Ajmal Ihsas” clip won the best video clip at the Arabic Music Awards, which took place in Dubai. To top off an outstandingly successful and memorable year, Elissa was also included in the anthology book, “100 Pioneers of Lebanon”. The singer was celebrated alongside artists such as Fairuz, Wadih El-Safi, and many other celebrities who have left their everlasting mark on the Lebanese cultural, political and social landscape.
2004–06: Ahla Donia and Bastanak
Elissa’s fourth album, “Ahla Donia”, recorded with Super Audio System, was released in May 2004. It broke record sales around the Middle East and the beloved artist won the World Music Award for Best Selling Middle East Artist. As a result, Elissa was recognized as the first Lebanese to win the award and went on to win the Murex d’Or for not only Best Lebanese Singer, but also Best Video Clip for her hit song, “Hobak Wajaa”. At the time, the technique of using Super Audio was the latest innovation in sound technology and it was the first time a Middle Eastern artist used such superior sound technology. Artists who had previously relied on the Super Audio System included: Sting, Andrea Bocelli and Pink Floyd. Elissa’s fifth album, “Bastanak”, confirmed her status as one of the best female musicians emerging from the Middle East as she reined in yet another World Music Award for Best Selling Middle East Artist. International photographer Mathias Clamer, who also worked on Elissa’s previous album, did the CD’s photo-shoot.
2007–10:Ayami Beek and Tesadaa Bemeen
Elissa’s sixth and seventh albums, “Ayami Beek” (December 20, 2007), which reached number one for more than three months and remains in the charts today, and “Tesadaa Bemeen” (December 26, 2009), continued the singer’s success and officially marked her as an unforgettable idol in prominent music history. Nearly two weeks after “Tesadaa Bemeen’s” release, the album immediately became the best selling album in the history of Rotana, as well as the most successful in Elissa’s career. The widely well-received album skyrocketed to the number one spot as it sold record quantities in Lebanon, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and the rest of the Middle East. “Tesadaa Bemeen” was Elissa’s album that received the most awards and compensation. In the eyes of her fans and the music industry, Elissa’s new release was far from disappointing, and reached the number one spot in France’s largest music store, Fnac, in the Musique du Monde section. Elissa received her third World Music Award, Big Apple Award, Jordan Music Award, Middle East Music Award and many others for “Tesadaa Bemeen”. “Tesadaa Bemeen” includes thirteen songs between Lebanese and Egyptian dialects created from Elissa’s numerous collaborations with a handful of renowned writers, composers and music arrangers. For the album’s glamorous artwork, international photographer Matthias Clamer photographed Elissa on location at Pena National Palace in Sintra, Portugal. The singer has surpassed expectations and risen above the rest of her generation’s talented celebrities, achieving full-fledged star-status. Elissa is more than just a shooting star; she’s a monumental icon whose mark on the Lebanese, Middle Eastern and international commercial music scene will undoubtedly push boundaries and stand the test of time.
2011–present: Eighth studio album and The X Factor
Her eighth studio album ‘Asaad Wahda” released in June 2012 was number one for the first two months in all the Middle East charts and is still in the top 5 now, with the release of the first Video Clip in January for the title song “Asaad Wahda”. In December 2012, Elissa was chosen to be one of the judges of the X Factor Middle East; the program aired in February 2013.
» Studio Albums
1999 Baddi Doub
2000 W’akherta Ma’ak
2004 Ahla Dunya
2007 Ayami Beek
2009 Tsadaq Bmein
2012 As’ad Wahda
2014 Halet Hob