Rayya Elias was born in Aleppo, Syria. Her family moved to Warren, Michigan in 1968, when she was eight. Rayya spoke no English and had to adapt and learn to speak it in the fourth grade. After two years of community college, she turned her sights to fashion and music and became involved in the Detroit club post punk scene starting a couple of bands with Kory Clarke (Warrior soul).
Rayya moved to New York in 1983 and continued to perform in both hair and music. She became the East Coast art director for the Heidi’s hair company and started recording with Tommy Robertson (Polyrock), while waiting for her dear friend and muse Clarke to move to New York. When Clarke joined her in late 1984, they started Ancient Beat and performed at clubs including, Night Birds, Pyramid, and CBGB. Ancient Beat was music and art infused together. Elias played a mountain of electronics and sang, while Clarke ferociously played drums. They would paint nude dancers on stage, or have different artists paint to the hypnotic rhythms they created. Rayya (the band) was soon formed with Melora Creager (Rasputina), Kory Clarke, Peter Jay, and the amazing Gerald Collins on guitar. Michael Magarian who ran Provenance Gallery in Chelsea gave Elias some backing for a development deal but she spun out.
On the lower east side, where she lived, Rayya found a passion for the gritty, cross-section of on the streets and became lost to drugs, institutions and jails for some time. She spent some time, homeless in Tent City at Tompkins Square Park.
Eventually when she made her way back, she added filmmaking to her resume, writing and directing two short films. “Anonymous” a thirty five minute harrowing piece about her time through an eviction on the Lower East Side, and “The Lunchroom” a five minute short, which depicts the difficulties of being a young foreigner in this country. She also wrote the soundtracks for both working with producer Barb Morrison (Rufus Wainwright, Blondie).
2004, Filmmaker magazine named her "one of 25 new faces to watch."
Elias has just published her first book on called Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side. Published by Viking in the U.S. and Bloomsbury in the UK and the Commonwealth. She has also released six songs (also with Morrison) “the soundtrack to the book”, she says.