Musician Spotlight: Sonja Drakulich of Stellamara

Sonja by Evan FraserJoin us in celebrating another musician who is also a dance enthusiast, Sonja Drakulich of Stellamara. Stellamara, of which Sonja is a founder and main vocalist, was featured in Colleena Shakti's debut Datura Online choreography "Lado". Sonja and Stellamara love collaborating with dance artists, and their eccelectic music, with influences from around the world, is a great fit for fusion dancers. Currently based in California, Sonja frequently tours around the world, and in true D.O. fashion we're "bringing her to you"...wherever you are with this short interview.

Photo : Evan Fraser

5 Q's with Sonja Drakulich:

DO: Some listeners might classify this band as "world music"... how do you classify, or describe, yourselves?

SD"World music" is probably the most general genre there is since it includes everyone in the world. I would say our music is: Cinemagraphic / Near Eastern / Balkan / Electro-Acoustic / World-Folk.  It's not the easiest music to describe.

DO: What are some of the genres/cultures that influence Stellamara's unique sound?

SDMost definitely the music of our mentor, Ross Daly. There is such a long list to mention here, yet myself and my primary music partner, Gari Hegedus, have spent the better part of our lives studying the modal music of the Near and Middle East, primarily Turkish and Arabic classical and folk traditions. I also am influenced by Persian and Medieval European styles. My main influence in my vocal styling however is Eastern European, primarily Bulgarian and Hungarian. There is no script or conceptual plan in how the music is created within Stellamara. We have always simply moved with what sounds best and let the music itself guide us. 

DO: I'm sure everyone in the band has a different and fascinating story, but what got you involved with wanting to learn music from different cultures Sonja?

SD: This is a question I'm most often asked and do not have a clear answer to. All I can say is that I always needed to sing, and have always had music and melodies traveling inside of me. The music from my immediate environment didn't reflect what I heard internally until I heard Eastern European and Middle Eastern Music. I was completely awe struck with a feeling of arriving home, when I first heard Bulgarian Choirs at age 16; and then I was fortunate enough to see Lakshmi Shankar perform at age 18, which also changed my life course and study of music till this day.

DOIn the context of Stellamara, what is one of your most memorable collaborations with a dancer?

SD: Stellamara has been so incredibly fortunate to work with the most amazing, innovative dancers I know of in existence. And, I am beyond fortunate that these women happen to be some of my closest friends. The collaborations we've produced with Colleena Shakti, Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Auberon Shull, Miriam Peretz, Aliah Najmabadi, Nagasita, and many other exquisite dancers have all stemmed from a mutual love and appreciation for each other. The performance aspect has just naturally arisen out of our friendships and wanting to co-create. I'm recalling now more specifically moments on stage with both Rachel and Colleena that have been so magical and exquisite I actually have to filter the magnitude of beauty or else I feel I could not  keep my composure while singing. It's completely overwhelming. It's seems the art of my personal performance in these instances is in my navigating the depths of feminine magnificence itself, gracefully allowing this beauty to overwhelm me, while staying rooted as a vessel for the music and the song. It is true magic, and a great honor.

DO: Why do you think so many dancers love to dance to Stellamara's music?

SD: I feel there are certain qualities that attract dancers, such as the vocal, drone based polyphony leading into Arabic and Turkish rhythms. On a deeper level I feel that in this music there is an intricate emotionality that resonates deeply and wants to be moved through the body. I am ever grateful for the dancers that choreograph to our music. I feel that people who dance regularly hear and appreciate music on a deeper level then non (active) dancers. Throughout my career as a musician, I have felt more understood, appreciated and supported from dancers than anyone else (though I gratefully do feel support from all of our fans). This appreciation and support, I hope, is felt as mutual, which is why I continue to collaborate so often with dance artists.

Above: Stellamara - Sonja Drakulich (center), left-right Sean Tergis, Gari Hegedus, EO, Peter Jaques and Evan Fraser).
Image Credit: Shalom Ormsby
Below: Stellamara at 2014 Lightening in the Bottle Festival with dance friends Zoe Jakes, Auberon Shull, Colleena Shakti and Nagasita.
Image Credit: Daniel Jung
Stellamara Daniel Jung Photo

Sonja Drakulich Bio:

Born of a Hungarian mother and Serbian father, singer, composer, musician, and producer Sonja Drakulich is best known through her internationally acclaimed world-music ensemble, Stellamara, and as a guest artist and performer for the Northern European Medieval- Folk band, Faun. Sonja is an eccletic artist, a singer and percussionist, who's genres include vocal stylizings of Eastern European, Hindustani, Persian, Turkish, Greek and Arabic music.

Learn the original Choreography, "Lado" by Colleena Shakti to the Stellamara song of the same name:
Lado by Colleena Shakti with music by Stellamara

Stellamara with Colleena Shakti at the Marin Civic Center