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Finding Freedom: A Conversation with Zoe-Blu Shantos on Music, Heritage, and Self-Discovery

By Aliki Barnes


Recently, I caught up with folk singer-songwriter Zoe-Blu Shantos over a cup of tea to discuss her experience as an emerging artist. She welcomed me into her home cosy in East London which she shares with her friend Billie and their two dogs.


Zoe is a relative newcomer to life among the hipsters of Hackney because she grew up in Notting Hill with her mum, brother and grandparents all in the same house. “My great-grandmother also lived with us when she was alive so there were four generations under the same roof at one point. I only moved to the East last year so I’m still very new to this side of town,” she added.

 

Zoe Blu Shantos


As we sipped our Earl Grey, we chatted about the beginning of her musical career. I was curious to uncover what sparked the initial interest and how she eventually realised that music was her calling. Reaching for her phone, with a shy giggle, she played me a video, unmistakably shot on the very first Canon handheld camcorder. The footage was taken at her primary school talent show in 2005, where, at just eleven years old, she took to the stage. Despite the shaky and poor quality of the video, little Zoe belted out ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon with real star quality.

 

“Since I could talk, I’ve been singing to myself, making up melodies and stories to suit. I’ve always known that song is my medium, but it’s been a long road to fully committing to doing this, building up enough courage and self-belief to do what I care about the most. I’ve, at times in my life, tried to back out of it and do something easier but I get depressed if I don’t create in this way. It’s such an important part of processing and understanding the events of my life, my emotions, and a way of communing with some deeper wisdom within me. When sharing my music helps others do the same, it’s incredibly fulfilling and affirming and has led me to a point where I can say I am completely devoted to continuing this work, despite its unpredictable nature.”

 

In a way, she adds, it was as if music chose her, rather than the other way around, one of those turning points in life over which a person has almost no control. It’s a deeply emotional thing –this is abundant in her lyrics and in her voice as she sings them. These are lines that are written straight from the heart. “Freedom is a concept I’ve always been fascinated by, hence the title of my latest album: Eleftheria (Greek for freedom) - which came out in April”.


Zoe Blu Shantos

Photo: Helena Pliotis

 

Stroking her labradoodle, Penny, who lay belly-up beside her, Zoe told me about her Cypriot heritage, particularly the profound themes found in ancient Greek mythology that have influenced her life over the years. Freedom was often associated, in Greek mythology and literature, with the idea of autonomy, and liberation from oppression or tyranny.

 

“There are all these invisible boundaries in life, and we can restrict ourselves so much just with the thought of the possibility of being disapproved of,” she explained. “We sit in our seats with our hands in our laps, and I’ve at times, found this physically painful. But often, the power to release ourselves from these perceived limitations lies within us. Of course, some would like us to stay trapped too, which makes things a bit more complicated. The album documents my struggles and victories with this notion. It also explores themes of release, grief, acceptance, fear and love.”

 

Not only is her identity as a musician connected to her background. Growing up in a multi-generational household also highlighted the importance of family in her life. Collaborating with her cousin, Tom Widdicombe, added a further layer to a sense of familiarity in the writing process. “Yes, totally,” she replied, “and there is a lot of trust involved in this process and I feel super lucky to have not only been working with Tom but other musicians and producers who have been so sensitive with the tunes.”

 

Like many emerging artists, Zoe has struggled to break through the noise and gain traction in a saturated market. There have been plenty of hurdles along the way, but Zoe seems to be taking the lows as well as the highs in her stride. “We didn’t really know what we were doing so we just jumped in and made the thing and figured out stuff on the way. Things have changed so rapidly in the industry that there aren’t really any hard-and-fast rules anymore.”

 

 “I still haven’t got it fully figured out yet, the marketing and business side of things feels very overwhelming – I have moments of clarity but they’re short-lived so I’m hoping one of these days it’ll just click” I’m sure many artists feel the same; after all, that’s what agents, accountants and lawyers are for!”

Zoe Blu Shantos

Photo: Helena Pliotis


One of Zoe’s standout releases is 'My Body’, which I often listen to while daydreaming on dog walks over Hampstead Heath. “Thank you!” she beamed when I told her. “I want to put ‘assisting in daydreams’ on my CV! I’m so touched it has had an impact on you.”

 

Zoe says she wrote the song after going through “a period of disconnection” with her body in her early twenties: “Too much drinking and smoking, not enough exercise, or sunlight and it led me into a pretty dark place. But I listened to my body and pulled myself out of it. I started slowing down, cleaning up, moving my body daily and writing music again. I was admitting things to myself – things about my life that were no longer working and that needed changing. This is when I wrote ‘My Body’, full of gratitude for its persistence in leading me back to myself. When I ignored my body, it had to scream at me, but now that I was giving my body what it needed, it opened such deep wells of joy, creativity, and sensation in me that I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be alive.”

 

Zoe’s album ‘Eleftheria’ is out now so make sure to check it out.  



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