DRAMA’s Na’el Shehade is a symbol of generational sacrifice
Decades ago, Mahmoud Shehade sold three of his olive trees — which hold great value to Palestinians — to his neighbor. He wanted to send his son, Yusef, by boat, on a three-month journey from Palestine to Lima, Peru in search of a more prosperous life.
Despite Yusef’s challenges, he was able to support a family of his own and eventually immigrate in the early ‘70s to the U.S., where he lived until he passed away from cancer in 2010. The sacrifices made by Na’el Shehade’s father, Yusef, and grandfather, Mahmoud, fueled his dream of working in the music industry, a dream that has swelled into a successful career.
Shehade — a self-described serial entrepreneur and record producer — inherited his work ethic from his father. According to Shehade, that drive is what led him to collaborate with artists such as Chance the Rapper and Kanye West.
“I have to be the best,” Shehade told Palestine in America. “[My dad left Palestine] with nothing. [He] made money, made a business, made life, had some kids. This is the least I can do.”
The “least” he can do turns out to be quite a lot.
Shehade is the youngest of five children. He owns three restaurants — Rio’s Fine South American Cuisine and Middleterranean, both in Addison, Illinois, and Chisme Cantina in San Francisco. He also operates a digital marketing agency, called KAKE. On top of that, there’s DRAMA Music, a record label he owns with Lluvia Rosa Vela (Via Rosa), his partner in business and art; together they make DRAMA, a musical duo that fuses dance, rhythm and blues, and pop. According to Shehade, they’re courting “several” offers from major record labels but haven’t received an offer “worth giving everything up for.” In the meantime, DRAMA recently completed its 2019 North American tour and wants to release a new album soon. The collaboration has led to millions of streams on platforms like Apple Music and Spotify and a budding friendship.
As DRAMA closed its 2018 North American tour in Chicago last December, Rosa described meeting Shehade in 2013 when he was working with Chicago artist Jean Deaux on her project “Soular System.” Deaux, a friend of Rosa, suggested that Shehade and her work together, but it took nearly a year for the them to find the time. When Shehade finally sent Rosa an email to meet up and work, Rosa quickly and nervously made her way to Shehade’s studio.
“We made four songs in one night. It was pretty magical,” Rosa told the crowd at Lincoln Hall, a northside venue located at 2424 N. Lincoln Ave. “So, less than a month later, he was like, ‘Yo, I’m going to start a band; do you want to be in my band?’”
But when Rosa showed up for the first day of rehearsal, she was surprised to learn that she and Shehade were the only band members.
“I really love telling that story because it reminds me nothing great happens overnight,” Rosa told the audience. “Nothing happens if you’re afraid to try something new.”