Music Connects Us with Eleni Zaharopoulos of Stella’s Ghost

May 15, 2015 Artists, Interview

I understand you’ll be performing with your band Stella’s Ghost during the festival. Would you describe for us the type of music you’ll be playing?

It’s Greek folk music. Some stuff is Rebetika which is a specific type of Greek folk music that originated in urban areas and has been described as the Greek blues. A lot of the songs are about heartache, drugs, and independent women. Most of the songs we’ll be playing were written before 1940. We’ll be playing two sets on Saturday. One at 8 and one at 9. There will also be ouzo and mezze for people to enjoy. We’re going for a Greek speakeasy feel.

What brought the band together initially and how long have you been playing as a group?

We met in 2013 at Balkan Camp which is organized by the East European Folklife Center. The camp Eleni Zaharopoulos‘s Forget Me Nottakes place every summer in two locations- in Mendocino on the West Coast and in the Catskills on the East. I had been wanting to go since I heard about it in 2008. We’ve been practicing on and off since we met that summer. Doug and Abby live in Ann Arbor. When I told them I lived in Detroit they wanted to play together. It was great!

Could you describe your installation at Public Pool and where the inspiration came from?

My installation is a reunion. The last five years are its inspiration. Inspiration/encouragement also came from Steve Hughes. Initially I was hired by Porous Borders to curate a show at Public Pool that dealt with borders. When Steve and I met, he suggested I do a solo show instead. His interest in my work as an artist set in motion a whole slew of things that I had been thinking about since Adrian died in 2010.

I have been wanting to do something with our stuff for quite some time now. Having it sitting in boxes for almost five years was affecting me. Every time I would go into my mom’s basement where I kept everything, I would get really sad, anxious, and overwhelmed with tons of personal fears. I can’t express how thankful I am that it’s all out for everyone to enjoy and that by the time the show ends on June 27th most things will have found new homes to live in.

What has been your personal experience with the border between Detroit and Hamtramck?

The first two places I lived in Detroit were near Hamtramck. I remember being annoyed that I just couldn’t call it Detroit – haha. The city within a city thing is really interesting but because Detroit is more visible nationally I just wanted to say “It’s Detroit” rather than go into explaining the whole thing to people who hadn’t heard of Hamtramck. I’m from Queens, and when people ask me where I’m from I usually say “New York”, then “Queens”, then “Whitestone”, and then, if the conversation is still happening, “it’s near Flushing”. It’s a whole thing.

“The city within a city thing is really interesting but because Detroit is more visible nationally I just wanted to say “It’s Detroit” rather than go into explaining the whole thing to people who hadn’t heard of Hamtramck.”

When I moved here, I had a hard time dealing with a new set of place identifiers. It becomes more natural the longer I live here. I also have a better understanding with where I’m at. We identify with a place and then a subset of that place ad infinitum because our place is where our heart is. Borders are funny and shout outs are important. Now I’m all about the North End because that’s where I’ve lived for almost 4 years.

Looking into the future, in what ways might you suggest we look to art and music to create dialogue between borders and perhaps even to further blur them?

I find the word border to be ambiguous. It can mean so many things. If we’re talking about the borders between countries, however, I think art and music are a great way to connect people. I would suggest we have the Art Olympics or a Universal EuroVision called UniVision. I think a spirited global Arts and Music competition every four years could be really fun.

– Interview by Levon Kafafian