ZouZou Mansour is the lead singer of Soraia, a Philadelphia based band signed with Little Stevie Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool Records. They are the headliner for The Ladybug Festival’s An Evening of Music by Women on Tuesday, August 31st. I sat down with ZouZou to chat about how Delaware’s collaborative music scene helped Soraia achieve and maintain their success.
Lauren: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me today ZouZou! Wilmington has this underground, huge arts community that we want to put on the map and show off to people who live and work in Wilmington, or for those who are visiting. So we’re excited to talk to people that are not from the city to gain perspective on what they think about Wilmington. So tell us about you first!
ZouZou: Since I was in second grade, I thought you were either born a singer or you weren’t. And then I realized I love to sing, so I just didn’t care anymore. I always knew I wanted a collaborative effort. To me, the power of more people working together was something I always felt like you wouldn’t be lonely and you would do better. I never write on my own because it’s always better when you collaborate. That’s been my experience and that’s been my belief.
And I have always held to that core value from day one, that a group is much more powerful than the singular persons in it. So Soraia to me is a voice; it’s an opportunity to speak in an artistic medium to say some of the things I’ve wanted to say. It’s autobiographical. It’s also social and cultural. And I try to just speak from an individual perspective, but about greater things. We’re a hard rock band at our base and our core but the band is just a mess of a lot of musical tastes.
So Soraia itself means it’s like one of the stars in the Pleiades constellation. And it’s supposed to be this guiding force.
We’re currently signed with Wicked Cool Records in New York City since 2016. It’s Little Steven Van Zandt’s garage rock label. (Van Zandt is most famous for playing with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.) We’ve had a good home base in several places now. And we tour a ton. We’re finally back on the road this fall, which we’ve been dying to do for about a year and a half now.
Lauren: So how did your band end up playing in Wilmington and Delaware, since you’re a Philadelphia band?
ZouZou: When we first started we were playing locally in Philadelphia and wanted to expand in circles. So we looked at New Jersey, New York, and Delaware as (music) circles around Philadelphia that we could hit on a fairly regular basis and build a base. We were first at East End Cafe (now Grain on Main) in Newark, DE. And we just started growing there. So we played there every month for probably two or three years and even did release shows there because we just had a huge crowd there.
And then we realized we needed to hone our craft, so we just started doing a lot of recording and writing and abandoned ship on touring. When we came back to Wilmington, it was really through Jeremy and Gayle at Gable Music Ventures. It started with events like the Ladybug Festival, and over the years, we’ve just grown with them.
Lauren: What was your initial first impression of Delaware and Wilmington?
ZouZou: I think when we first started in Delaware there was just good energy. That was my first impression. We had such a fan base at East End and Mojo on Main that we began to consider it our home because of the community that built around us and the other bands that we played with, there was just a camaraderie that grew. The atmosphere of Delaware and Wilmington was very supportive of a new band. The people were very friendly and would bring their friends out and it became our home more than Philadelphia was.
And then like I said, we took a few years off and we changed so much, even down to our genre. But when we went back to Delaware in 2014/2015 and started playing in Wilmington mostly, my feeling was no matter what every time we were in the state, people were trying to build a music scene. It was just always good. It’s really nice because that’s not the case in a lot of places.
And then again, we were touring, touring, touring. And when we came back to Wilmington again and started relying on Jeremy and Gayle to get us on the gigs that they feel are right.
Oddity Bar is the place we like to play a lot. The owner there is awesome. The crowd that comes there is awesome; they’ve embraced us. We haven’t played there probably since 2019, you know, before the pandemic, but we did great there. I also liked 1984 because I could play video games while I waited to perform!
Delaware is just a great community of people that come to shows, there’s always been a great crowd in every place. It’s never been like two people. And the bands that we play with and meet have always been nice.
Gail and Jeremy have been indispensable in terms of just getting more exposure and great sound, great venues, always thinking out of the box kind of thing.
Lauren: So I know you chatted a little bit about this already but why are the arts in Wilmington so exciting? I know you said the sense of camaraderie with the musicians, venues and fans are huge.
ZouZou: I think just personally for us Delaware was the first place that we actually took hold and had a little bit of a fire on in our bellies and it’s always going to be special for that reason. I’d always feel good on the drive home from East End, that feeling of when you first start out, not naive but like inexperience. So with inexperience comes an inescapable joy with not knowing and then as you learn and you learn and you learn, that joy dissipates a little bit. It’s still great, but it’s not like when you first are discovering things and the first time people are telling you how great your band is and how they come back and see you again.
I still get that feeling now but it’s not anywhere near the initial joy of doing it and the innocence and not having some expectation tied to it. And that feeling started in Delaware for us. So that’s our personal attachment to Delaware. And there’s never been a bad experience and I mean, bad experiences really kind of sour your views of whole areas. It’s never been that for us in Delaware. It’s always been supportive and encouraging people have been grateful when we come play. But I think that’s why it’s enjoyable for us.
Lauren: So what advice or information would you give to performers in Wilmington?
ZouZou: Wilmington is a great place to grow. It’s a key area to grow your audience and to also get true feedback. And only when you grow your audience, can you really hear what people think and try new songs with the people that have heard your old songs. It’s definitely a vital place for the arts, and for aspiring artists, and for artists that are established. In Wilmington musicians can reach an audience that is reachable.
Lauren: Thank you so much for your time today! Is there anything else you’d like to say to our audience?
ZouZou: I think I would just say come support live music, because we definitely need your support again, especially coming out of quarantine. I think it’s really important that people show their support at this point in time. But doing it safely, whatever that means for them. So definitely come out and even when it’s not free events, go out and support live music. We all need that right now.