When you’ve experienced heartache, setbacks, a health crisis and personal doubt, the easy thing to do would be to bow out of the fight. But Zahna has never been one to take the path of least resistance. The fiery singer is arming herself for battle against pain and despair with Red For War, her RockFest Records solo debut.
Born Susana Martinez, “Zahna” is a nod to her heritage and a variation on her given name. As a young child, she immigrated from Mexico to the United States with her family but returned to her native country later on as an exchange student. The year-long program was tough, and it plunged 11-year-old Zahna into an isolated depression.
“I had a reality check, questioning the meaning of life,” she recalls during her season as an exchange student. “Something is missing, and I don’t want to grow up and be ordinary. I need to find a greater purpose, because if there isn’t one, then I don’t want to live anymore.” That dark moment led Zahna to open the Bible at her bedside and—over time—a desire was birthed to live with the same kind of dedication and purpose she saw in Jesus’ disciples.
Although Zahna grew up in a musical family and was involved in theater, she sensed God was asking her to set music aside for youth ministry. But during the final year of her studies at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, the possibility of a music career resurfaced. “I felt like He was telling me, ‘I just asked you to lay it down for a season,’” Zahna shares. “I thought, ‘I have nothing to lose, why don’t I just give it a shot?’”
Stepping back into music as a member of Christian rock band ILIA, Zahna wrote the Reborn EP and toured with the group for two years. When ILIA disbanded in 2016, she opted to move forward as a solo artist.
Now a member of the RockFest Records family—a groundbreaking new rock label helmed by Seventh Day Slumber’s Joseph Rojas—Zahna triumphantly emerges with Red For War, an in-your-face battle cry. Raw and real, the highly anticipated 10-song solo set was produced by Joshua Bertrand of Christian rock innovators and Billboard hitmakers Random Hero. Channeling a season of struggle, including career ups and downs and coping with a chronic kidney disease, Red For War ultimately finds Zahna standing firm on the Truth of God’s promises.
“I can let this bitterness fester inside of me, or I can fight the devil,” she says of her recent trials. “The war I wage is not against flesh and blood. There are darker powers, and that’s what I’m battling. God is the One who brings victory. Believe that and keep fighting; you will receive it. You will see it happen.”
The album’s debut single, “Underneath,” introduces a whole new audience to Zahna’s sound. With its crunchy guitars and vocals ranging from a breathy, fragile falsetto in the verses to soaring, fully liberated choruses, “Underneath” captivated Christian radio audiences when it was independently released last year. After hitting #4 on Billboard’s Christian Rock chart in 2017, the song is currently impacting Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Indicator chart.
“Often, I write songs and I don’t realize they’re about me until much later,” Zahna explains of her breakout single. “Proverbs tells us that the Lord sees every motive of the human heart, nothing is hidden from Him. The word ‘underneath’ kept coming to mind when I was writing the song. No matter what happens, I can’t hide from the Lord. Whatever I feel, whatever I think I’m hiding from people, it won’t matter because underneath it all, He can see it.”
That message strikes deep in the heart of many, but perhaps most personally to those struggling with addiction. “The Lord knows you know,” Zahna says with loving encouragement. “Stop trying and just come clean. He loves you. He’ll forgive you. He’ll help you through these things.”
Further exploring Zahna’s unique musical fingerprint, album opener “Unshaken” declares in a chorus of gang vocals that “we remain unshaken” in God. As the singer blends gut-wrenching, visceral screams with the ethereal, pure tone of her clean vocals, the intense dynamic requires an equally strong musical backbone of ferocious guitar riffs. That sound spans not only the technical, metal-influenced “Unshaken,” but the hooky, synth-supported “Was I Bad” and ballad “Edge of the Earth” as well.
Red For War also finds Zahna unapologetically mining the darker parts of the human experience. “Misery” grieves betrayal, but it ultimately points to the One who is always trustworthy. The track’s chorus inspired the album’s title, written from Christ’s redemptive perspective as He meets us in our desperation: red for war, red for vengeance/you’re so helpless when it comes to healing.
The right to make music that flies in the face of destruction is one Zahna has certainly earned, and she declares this Truth in a year that holds great meaning for her—a personal rebirth of sorts. Confidently stepping into this new season with the release of her solo debut and forthcoming marriage to Random Hero drummer Patrick Madsen, Zahna also hopes to receive a kidney transplant, which will allow her to continue touring and living life to the fullest.
“Every disappointment is just a setup for something greater,” Zahna concludes. “Not because we deserve it, but because we’re children of God. We have that right as daughters and sons of God. At the end of the day, we win, no matter what.”