Leila Milki, born and raised in Northern California to Lebanese immigrant parents, was asked to compose and record a song with an oriental beat, which she gladly did.
The song was featured in the episode and was heard playing in the background, sung in both English and Lebanese.
It speaks of the most famous dishes of the Lebanese cuisine (Kibbe, Baba Ghanouj, Hummus, etc.) by using the Lebanese words of hospitality: Ahla w sahla! Welcome! And saha w hana! Enjoy your meal.
A 2017 award winner of The John Lennon Songwriting Contest, Leila Milki has also released several singles, some of which revolved around Lebanon, a homeland she’s attached to and visits regularly.
About her song featured in The Rocketeer of Disney, Leila Milki shared with us the following: “A fellow USC music graduate, who works as a film composer, reached out to me in November of 2018. He let me know that a friend of his was seeking a co-writer for a traditional Lebanese song. ‘Sounds like it’s for Disney,’ he added.”
The young artist was then connected by her friend with Beau Black, The Rocketeer’s official songwriter, who explained the premise of the specific episode (all about Lebanese cuisine) then sent Leila the lyrics from the producers.
“Arabic music was unfamiliar territory for him,” Milki explained. “He hoped I could bring some cultural authenticity to the track while keeping everything fun, catchy, and upbeat.”
Leila would then spontaneously record that up-beat and catchy music when meeting with her childhood piano on a visit to Lebanon for the holidays!
“I happened to be visiting my hometown for the holidays at the time, so I immediately sat at my childhood piano and recorded the first thing that came to mind intuitively. In just a few minutes, ‘Enjoy Your Meal’ was finished,” Milki said.
Leila Melki graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) in 2015, receiving her B.A. in Communication with a double minor in Songwriting and Music Industry.
Additionally, after fifteen years of classical training, she received her Associate Diploma in Piano Performance from The Royal Conservatory of Music, which is the equivalent of a university-level degree.
Even though Milki has been living in the US as a first-generation American, she grew up traveling to Lebanon each summer and she still makes annual visits with family.
“Lebanon is my home away from home, and an integral part of my multicultural identity,” the promising artist reveals.
She proceeded to say: “Lebanon’s value systems shaped my upbringing in a close-knit Lebanese immigrant family, and continue to inspire my journey as an East-meets-West artist.”
Talking further about Lebanon’s influence on her, she said: “Its vibrant traditions have enriched my creative voice, as I’ve experienced the music of Fairuz, the poetry of Khalil Gibran, the recipes of my Teytas (passed down to my mother), the Arabic and French languages, and the culture of abundance, generosity, sophistication, precision, liveliness, warmth, and devotion.”
Milki tries to keep her cultural heritage alive through regular performances at Lebanese events in the US, through collaborations with Arab instrumentalists, and Middle-Eastern stylings in her original music.
The rising star wrote in 2017 an Arabic/English single titled Leil Ya Leil, as an ode to Lebanon, the Lebanese diaspora, and the beauty in dualities.
She refers to her Mediterranean summers in the northern Lebanese town of El-Koura as the happy place she sees when she closes her eyes.
“Everyone in Koura welcomes you as family, whether at the dining table (around a sumptuous home-cooked feast), on scenic sunset walks in the neighborhood (where everybody knows you by name), at the local dikenni, or gatherings on the balcon complete with folk sing-alongs and ornate plates of fresh watermelon.”
Miki wrote Leil Ya Leil as a nostalgic tribute to her unique heritage, hoping to capture the warmth of those memories and that longing for home.
It was that song that won her the grand prize of The John Lennon Songwriting Contest 2017 in the World Music Category.
Milki also explored some of Lebanon’s conflicting social narratives in her song Better Match, which is a critique of Lebanon’s religious laws affecting civil marriage opportunities.
Some of the lyrics she sings throughout the song speak directly to Lebanon: “You’re still beautiful as can be, touched by permanent fragility…if only you’d overcome your wavering identities.”
According to Milki, her ultimate goal is to connect with a growing, global audience through her original music and her multicultural perspective.
She is currently beginning the recording process of her second studio album, to which we are more than eager to hear!
“My second album focuses on finding beauty in the spaces between disparate worlds. I can’t wait to share this new collection of songs — my most personal yet — in the coming year, inshallah,” Milki says, much to our enthusiasm.
Milki hopes that this Disney placement fuels even more rewarding and meaningful career moments. She shared that she would also love for her writing to yield performance opportunities abroad.
“As an Arab-American woman in music, I am especially passionate about championing diverse cultural representation — so it’s been heartwarming to witness how much this Disney/Lebanese juxtaposition has touched communities all over the world,” Milki concluded.
The Lebanese artist talks fondly of her Lebanese roots and origin, “I’m grateful to my parents, my extended family overseas, and my Lebanese-American networks in California for bolstering my ties to Lebanon — I’m proud of my roots and do not take them for granted.”
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