The Chicago dance outfit's latest project tells the story of a young Muslim teen girl as she finds love—or like—with a mixed race boy.
Photos by Greg Chmiel
Drama Duo is the passion project of producer Na’el Shehade and songstress Via Rosa. They’re just winging it—no boundaries, no rules. Shehade crafts a beat equal parts dark and dance, while Rosa tries out some lyrics to the beat. She sings. She talks. He remixes. They feel out what works. They find an emotional chord. They literally stand up and test out the danceability of the song.
Their beautiful, bumping, woeful single “Hopes Up” feels like dancing through something really hard—like heartbreak, like long recovery—and finding a way to feel the highs and the lows all at once. Its new video follows suit, a love story that manages to be at once simple and empowering. The Christopher Kostrzak-directed short follows a young Muslim teen girl as she finds love—or like—with a mixed race boy. They court each other; they dance; they are able to be carefree and themselves. Her hijab is both honored and normalized. You feel the energy spill out from the Chicago scenes; you feel what it's like to be young and messy and happy for a moment in this city.
We gave Drama Duo a call to discuss the song and the message behind the visuals. Read our conversation and watch the video premiere of "Hopes Up" below.
Noisey: How did you guys link up?
Na’el Shehade: We met up through an artist named Jean Deaux, and I was doing her Soular System project at the time. She was like, “There’s this friend of mine, you should work with her.” I had come off of doing a lot of rap, that’s what I had been doing. I wanted to explore something a little different. Get my passion back up. So I started working on a dance project. V walked into the studio and we’ve been working together ever since. It’s been about a year, a year and a half or so. When we met, I was like, “There’s no rules. Just do what you wanna do.”
Process of experimentation between the two of you.
NS: Yeah, “Hopes Up” was one of the first five songs we came up with, and there are really no lyrics. It’s more of an emotion. People like it because it has passion behind it. It has motion. It’s cool.
How did the concept for the video come up?
NS: My brother’s a good friend with the director [Christopher Kostrzak], and he called me—I hadn’t talked to him in years—and he was like, “I love what you guys are doing. I would wanna come shoot a video for you guys in Chicago.” He’s done documentary video stuff for Zed, and he wanted to do a passion project. He says, “I have this awesome idea about this Muslim girl who wears a hijab. I wanna do something with a Hispanic girl or guy and a Muslim girl or guy. They fall in love, and they dance, and we kinda cut the stereotypes out of the way.” I loved it because that’s my entire vision. I want women to be empowered. I want people to look at Islamic women and Islamic people differently. With Donald Trump and all that’s happening right now, it’s so bad. People don’t see that. People think Muslims can’t dance, and can’t go out. That Muslim women don’t have those experiences.
She gets to experience it all—it’s normalized.
NS: Yeah, and we’re already experiencing a little backlash. When I went to the store with the director to buy the scarves, the lady at the store said, “Please just don’t embarrass our people.” Like, embarrassing who? I’m putting a girl in a hijab and she’s gonna dance and there’s nothing wrong with it.
It felt distinctly Chicago youth in a way too. Was that part of it?
NS: Yeah, it’s like a teen Chicago West Side Story.
Via Rosa: When Chris said West Side Story, I was sold. I didn’t even care what happened after that...I said, “Great, sounds great, let’s do it.”
NS: He’s a Chicago native, so it had to have that Chicago feel.
VR: That B-boy style… I’m Mexican and Na’el’s Muslim so it was all came together.
You projected that onto the characters.
NS: For sure. We’re gonna shake things up. Drama's gonna do whatever we wanna do. I was so sick of the industry. I got to a point where I felt disconnected. There was no passion anymore. It was all legal and business.
I think that could reach a lot of people.
NS: Yeah, I hope so. I’m sure a lot of people feel what we feel. They wanna kinda be dark but happy at the same time. “Happy sad music,” that’s what we call it.
Love that. People wanna feel sad but be able to move through it, dance through it. Sad turn up music.
NS: When we’re making beats in the studio, we get up to see if we can dance to them. If it’s not danceable… And she’s writing these sad lyrics through it.
What’s your songwriting process like, V?
VR: Na’el will start making something, and I’ll ask him to put it on loop. I walk around the studio and pace the studio and kinda memorize different words and melodies. I’ll just get in front of the microphone and give it whatever I’ve got. He’ll start arranging different hooks and verses out of it. It’s kind of just a poem.
NS: When we were in the studio, Vic Mensa just stopped by, and there was a second where he said, “I’m down on my luck”, and that sentence ended up making it into the song.
VR: There’s definitely no lyrics. I was for sure just talking and singing… things. It’s a lot of fun. I wasn’t making dance music until I met Na’el. It’s nice to make music that makes me wanna dance, because I don’t even like dancing. This actually makes me wanna dance.
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