Her singing is cool and warm, deep and airy, youthful but also seasoned, evocative of a wisdom that goes beyond her age. Eleonora Zouganeli is what we call an ‘old soul’ and this is what makes her transcend genres and styles, easily combining the traditional Greek sound with elements of rock and pop music; this is what makes her one of the leading voices in contemporary Greek music. Anyone who finds themselves on the corner of Lonsdale and Russell streets on Saturday night will get a first-hand experience of that, as the singer will be on stage, bringing along her own personal idea of Greekness.
What are you going to present at the Lonsdale Street Greek Festival?
First of all, I’m very happy to be given the opportunity to present songs from my personal albums. I have made a selection of songs that I love. I always make a point of including the songs that have formed me, that have defined my life and my perception of singing – songs that I have loved, that I have envied, that have been part of my life. So I always pick some songs from my own repertoire and some that are part of my collections. I have a large collection of notebooks, where I write down the songs that I love and that I want to sing. For some, the timing is right, for others not so much – and this is a good thing. In some strange and magical way, you see which songs fit and you get to create a nice microcosm, a world where I can move into and engage people who come to see me; that’s where the real communication starts. Now I have created a program specifically for Australia, including songs that I love and that remind me of Greece.
What does Greece mean to you? When you close your eyes and think of Greece, what do you see?
I think of Greece, as I got to know it through my family. I had the good fortune to be raised in a family that initiated me into the colours of Greece, the music of Greece, the language, the mores and customs. I would not say that my family is traditional (ed. note Eleonora is the daughter of popular singer, songwriter, actor and entertainer Yiannis Zouganelis and acclaimed singer and actress Isidora Sideri), but they are certainly people who honour tradition, so this is the essence of Greece that I carry along, and that has brought me so far. Greece for me is a very painful story. I often realise that those of us who live in Greece don’t love it so much. Maybe we have not discovered it to its full extent; maybe we have forgotten it. In any case, the truth is that when you get out and see this light and this colour and the nature and water, you feel blessed to come from this place.
What does it mean to be an artist in crisis-stricken Greece?
It is not easy being anything in crisis era Greece. I don’t just mean the financial aspect of it, I’m mostly talking about the psychological pressure, because the crisis has brought stress, stress has brought cruelty, cruelty has brought isolation. There is this feeling that Greece has nothing to offer you anymore. People have been deprived of hope – most of all young people. And yet, you have to fight; and yet, you have to study, not because ‘you have to’, but because you need to, because young people feel the need to create.
What is the role of song and art in times of crisis?
To wake up people, to challenge them, to keep them sensitive, to remind them of colours and scents, of feelings and emotions, to make them communicate. Art can make you dream.
One remarkable thing about your singing is an element of maturity, which goes beyond your age. This has to do with the sound of your voice, but it is also embedded in the way you perform. Where does this come from?
Of course, I have not necessarily experienced all that I sing about, but I try to empathise with people and understand their choices, so I feel that I have a vault inside me that contains all the emotions and all the experience, regardless of whether I have lived them or not. I can draw from that source and share it with people. This is a process that takes a lot of studying, but it is what gives me the greatest pleasure in my work.
But apart from that, it is true that, in my life, I have often dealt with some things with more maturity than is appropriate for my age. This is not a good thing, it is a burden that people should not feel when they are young. That’s how I am, though, that’s how things were for me, what could I do? That was how I saw life, how my teenage years were. Now I’m trying to become a child again, because I feel that it is very important to be innocent and look at things like kids do.
How are you trying to achieve that?
By reminding myself of the things that made me happy when I was a child, things that are simpler and smaller, but gave extreme joy. When you are a kid, you have the courage to express your emotions and your joy, without any afterthoughts. That is what I try to do, because I used to find it difficult to express joy; now I claim my right to this, I want it. This is why I am grateful to the audience that gives me the chance to sing, because for me singing has been the most serious essential way to discover myself and others, to love people, and understand them.
Is singing some kind of therapy?
It’s not – not per se. The process of creating a song is very beautiful and I don’t mean just writing lyrics and music, I mean the whole process – letting the words get into you… This is a very deep, meaningful process that activates me and makes me happy. When I plan the flow of a show, this is something crucial for me, it helps me reach a certain emotional state. The aim is to feel your spirits lifted, regardless whether the set includes some sad or difficult songs; the purpose is to reach the end having communicated with the audience and lifting our spirits higher.
How did you discover who you are?
I am not sure I have fully discovered it, and I’d like not to have, because I don’t want to be just who I am today, I would like to evolve. But I am certainly more centred, I know what I like and what I can and can’t do. I am trying to give the audience, to the people who invited me and come to my shows, an understanding of what it is that I’m doing, even if they don’t know many things about me. This is why I’m planning to sing more ‘uplifting’ songs in Australia, because I am going through an extroverted phase – this is not always the case, so when it happens, I try to enjoy it and share it.
What is the cause of this extroversion?
That’s what usually happens; you pass through a long period of introspection, regrouping, recollection – which is absolutely necessary not just in my line of work, but in life. I passed a rather long phase of introspection and now I feel rather balanced.
How does this affect your relationship with the audience?
I really believe in honesty, in any form of relationship; it is the way to know others, to love them, to accept them and respect them. So, despite the distance that exists between me and the audience, compared to my relationship with my close friends, I try to eliminate distance through honesty. My goal is to be as honest as possible with the audience, and communicate exactly what is happening to me, what is in my heart and in my mind; to communicate with the people who come to see me.