Arja Saijonmaa (born 1 December 1944) is a Finnish singer, political activist and occasional actress. A lot about her career has been written in several Wikipedia languages, but hardly anywhere one can find information about herself: is she married? Does she have children? Did she have friends? Who was her great love? Not either on her own website. All is focused on her career, it seems as if the human Arja Saijonmaa does not exist, not even for herself. There is an interview with her however in the Swedish newspaper “Expressen“, from 21 January 2008. Arja Saijonmaa was then 64. In that interview she tells that the moment she broke with her family was the most important choice of her life. Her family, especially her father, was not pleased with Arja’s choice to chose for a career on the stage. In a letter from an uncle, she learned that her almost shameful career choice in a family filled with academic heavy titles would lead to the death of her mother.
In the same interview is written that she does not have the need for a real home. But if she could chose, where? “A house by the sea, maybe? A fixed accommodation has never been the most important to me. It would be difficult to choose. Perhaps rather a hotel, an airport, an airport lounge …”
“I can build a living anywhere and do not need my own bed. It feels that it is rather dangerous to get routine and cramped habits, both in life and as an artist.”
On the question: “Do you regret something in your life?” she answers:
“No, life has been right about the things that happened. This is only possible to say when one is able to resolve crises and problems into new insights. I see life as a way to gain new insights, both as an artist and human. Hiking and searching are important. I’m a bit of Buddhist.”
We live now 10 years later. Arja Saijonmaa will become 74 on December 1, 2018.
The now following text is based on what I know about her from videos that have been uploaded on YouTube. In the last weeks so many videos of Arja Saijonmaa’s older concerts were suddenly there, that I had to start writing about my observations, and what I sense while doing that. Arja Saijonmaa is not somebody who can be ignored. She is too much present. I also searched for information, and what I found is mixed with what I observed in videos. While writing I am fixing a puzzle, not only in this post but even more in the next one: Theodorakis’ songs singers.
In the meantime there are in total three posts about Arja Saijonmaa/Mikis Theodorakis and these are all three interrelated. In part three is a final post scriptum.
- Arja Saijonmaa’s influencer: Mikis Theodorakis
- Theodorakis’ Songs Singers
- Arja Saijonmaa, part three
The start of the career as a singer
For me, the first time her name popped up via search engines for the music of Mikis Theodorakis happened when the following video was published on YouTube, on January 20, 2010.
In the video one can witness Arja Saijonmaa’s first meeting with Mikis Theodorakis. This meeting happened during a tribute concert for Mikis Theodorakis by Finnish musicians, in 1970 at Vanha, Finland. On that moment she was 25 years. A young woman, though she looked girlish. Mikis Theodorakis was then about 45 years old, just released from the Junta prison and sent to exile. When he saw Arja Saijonmaa interpret her songs, he rushed to the stage. This has been the start of a totally new way in Arja Saijonmaa’s personal life and musical career. A year later she was on her way for a long world tour with Mikis Theodorakis!
Another rare performance (Stockholm, 1975), published in January 2018:
In love with Mikis Theodorakis
Eyes are the mirrors of the soul, and even if Arja Saijonmaa would not have told it herself with her own words, everybody could have known by watching her eyes, and the way she expresses/expressed herself when she is/was near to Mikis Theodorakis. (Photos: click to enlarge)
When observing the photos on which they are together, one can also see another Mikis Theodorakis. She names the emotions she felt (feels) for him platonic (see references), and probably it was, is, but what should one think about the sentence in which she tells: “In my private life I have not sacrificed anything…”?
Also in the special concert in Trondheim, in 1992, in which she and Mikis Theodorakis are the only singers, and all is concentrated around the both of them, one can witness an Arja Saijonmaa who communicates with Mikis Theodorakis, not only in the musical expressions, but also in the expressions of the face, that are not about the music and the words only, but more. Even by wearing a white glittering dress she tells me a story. For me the puzzle of a lot of questions and mysteriousness becomes complete when I translate the white glittering dress into Arja Saijonmaa’s brides gown, being Mikis Theodorakis’ bride she never could be in real life, not anywhere else than on the stage, and combining this with what she writes, wrote herself, and what others wrote in interviews with her in articles.
When watching the video about the concert I notice a very unusual energy in and around Mikis Theodorakis. Also here I sense something intense and deep, but different from normal. I am convinced he sings about her, when he sings the following song, during this concert. He does not watch her, he has his eyes closed, he is in his inner world, his imagination, and from there he sings. A very beautiful moving interpretation of the song. The text (subtitles) fits with my thoughts.
What also fits with my interpretation of the relation between Arja Saijonmaa and Mikis Theodorakis is the fact that Arja Sajonmaa is also a political activist. By being that, together with being a wonderful talented passionate singer of songs of resistance, Arja Saijonmaa becomes an utterly attractive woman for the political engaged Mikis Theodorakis, who is at the same time also a highly talented musician, a composer of all kinds of music. Mikis Theodorakis’ wife Myrto Altinoglou has the same interests for politics as Theodorakis, but she is not musically talented. Of course Maria Farantouri was also a political engaged female singer and interpreter of Theodorakis’ music, but I never witnessed this magnetic tension between Maria Farantouri and Mikis theodorakis. When all parts of this puzzle are placed on the right spot I can see clearly a very intense connection, a special commitment, a unique bond between Arja Saijonmaa and Mikis Theodorakis. That connection is so strong that it goes beyond any common earthly relationship or bond between a man and a woman. Platonic does not mean lesser. On the contrary.
Concerts and performances
There have been several concerts with Arja Saijonmaa and among others Mikis Theodorakis, but the most known is the Canto General concert in Santiago de Chile, in 1993. Since a few weeks also the concert in Trondheim is available on YouTube. For all available performances on YouTube: playlist.
After having finished also the next post: “Theodorakis’ songs singers“, having found more information about Arja Saijonmaa, having assimilated all this, I would like to establish here the result.
Like everybody else: also Arja Saijonmaa has gone through life with its difficulties, pain, and lessons. The young Arja, a rebellion who wanted to walk her own path, left alone in this choice, and preferring to go alone instead of saying no to her career, must have found a soul mate (maybe even her twin soul) in Mikis Theodorakis, who has walked his own path through life, but never wanted to bend his head for injustice either. Arja Saijonmaa has considered her father’s rejection of her choice to be a performer, a singer, as inhuman. She had the human right to do what she knew as the only and one right thing to do. Mikis Theodorakis was a highly important beacon for her. The fact that she fell in love with him has made the situation rather complex.
The woman that grew out of the young woman that met Theodorakis in 1970 was another type than she would have become without meeting him. Obviously it was unavoidable that she would fall in love. All looks like this was meant to be. Written before she or Theodorakis were born. It was (is) a love that never ever could be fulfilled in another way than the platonic way though. At least: she names it like that. If this is the truth, nobody will ever know than she and Mikis Theodorakis. As she says: she could not hide it.
Overseeing her entire life I sense a struggling woman, playing all kinds of roles in all kinds of music styles, not even willing to admit she is struggling, not willing to be weak, preferring to be the strong one, to play the happy one, eternally smiling, who conquered lots of pain, who even could embrace the pain as belonging to her life, and who was able to transform this pain into a deeper way of watching, living. Finally.
We can still witness parts of that life in the videos that are available on YouTube.
Book: Μια νέα γυναίκα αποκαλύπτεται – Arja Saijonmaa
Two days after this post has been published, on the evening of Saturday February 10, 2018, I found the cover of an autobiographical book, written by Arja Saijonmaa, published in 2013, with the Greek title: “Μια νέα γυναίκα αποκαλύπτεται”, which means: “A young woman is revealed. The meeting with Mikis”. An in the Greek language written book.
“The time is 1970. The man is the Greek composer and star of world renown, Mikis Theodorakis, the woman is Arja Saijonmaa.
It is a time characterized by ideology, political music and the struggle for freedom. Mikis lives in exile after his difficult past as a political prisoner in Greece and is thwarted by the desire for music that will release people. During a concert in Helsinki, he discovers the Finnish singer and, in front of the amazed audience, announces that she will follow him on a world tour. Young Arja is making her first steps in the unknown and is confronted with the Greek man’s way of thinking, with a strong personality – and with her feelings about Mikis.
In this brilliant autobiographical story Arja refers to the time she met the man who was about to change and her career and philosophy about life. “A young woman is revealed. The meeting with Mikis” is a sincere, humorous and personal description of what it means to find your way to life and to dare to realize your dream.”
Foreword by Mikis Theodorakis; Greek text translated via google
“In 1970 the Junta released me and so from Oropos I found myself in Paris. I was already president of the PAM (Patriotic Anti-Dictatorial Front) and I had to meet as many as possible and more European leaders to show them the situation in our country and ask for their help. At that time, Theodore Pangalos was responsible for the international relations of the Front, and so we began our first major tour in the Nordic countries.
We started in Finland in the darkening part of the day, a fact that is unprecedented for the southern ones, who are fortunate enough to live bathing in the light… In Helsinki meetings were planned with the government and with the leaders of the left and center parties. For history I note that the KK [could not define this, aj] of Finland was then divided into three parts! Our presence was widely publicized and, as Arja writes, in the theatrical department of the University in which she participated, she had long since begun with rehearsals for the event. So, in the theater where the event took place, I saw her for the first time.
Because she tells them in detail in her book, I would like to say here that I also despised myself that I told her in front of the whole world: “I will take you with me to the concerts I organize. Reason for this however was, that I immediately understood her great value as a musician. And I was not mistaken. She proved to be of the same calibre as the biggest singers of my work like Maria Farantouri, Antonis Kalogiannis and Petros Pandis.
The best witness of what I said about Arja is her wonderful book, because she shows to have had a great spiritual and artistic education and development, as well as her need to fight for visions and high goals. My collaboration with her has been fruitful and beneficial to me. You have to know that each concert had the elements of the excitement and the magic that took us to other worlds. It was a mysterious celebration of beauty, which demanded mental and spiritual excitement. And that’s what I think this was the secret of our great resonance in any country we were in, anywhere, anywhere. From 1,000 to 30,000 listeners. And we’ve done hundreds of concerts with Arja.
Because her book is limited to the era of the dictatorship, I must say here that we continued our concerts until the 1990s. With the “Canto General” in Bogota, Colombia and Santiago, Chile, and a long tour of dozens of cities in Norway, Sweden and Finland.
But what is of particular importance is the fact that Arja has proved to be a true priestess of my music. She translated the songs in Finnish and Swedish and with her own ensembles she made for many years hundreds of concerts that made her the greatest artist of all Scandinavian countries and especially in Sweden. I have spent some of the great celebrations that she did in her honor. By the time I was in such a concert at a Stockholm stadium, as I watched her, tall and beautiful, dressed in white, I really believed she was an ancient goddess who had just descended from Mount Olympus to greet us. And then I felt proud.”
In the first place: why Arja Saijonmaa wanted to write a book in the Greek language? Is it a limited edition, for only the Greek people, or is it first and fore all written for Mikis Theodorakis? Mikis Theodorakis does not speak English, he speaks Greek and French, that’s it. A book in the Finnish (she is born there), Swedish (there she is the most successful), or Norwegian language (she wrote already a book in Norwegian, and is very well known in Norway): I would have understood it. English would have been the most logic choice: she is known worldwide. But Greek: no. Does she have so many Greek friends? Is her popularity in Greece so enormous? To be honest: I doubt that. The only reason left I can find, to understand why the book is written in the Greek language is Mikis Theodorakis because he cannot read any other language, next to French. French is not a logic choice for writing a book for the world. Greek not either. It fits however in the story of both of them. Another question: who helped her in writing perfect Greek? Could she speak and write fluently Greek, without mistakes? That would be amazing.
I do understand however why Arja Saijonmaa wrote this book: because of a life long complex and impossible love for the one where the book is about: her life as a developing woman, when she was near to and close with Mikis Theodorakis. Writing a book is also a way of meeting again, connecting, of keeping alive what otherwise would, or could disappear. When not any concert abroad, not even in Greece, or world tour can be arranged anymore because of the age of Mikis Theodorakis, and therefore not finding possibilities to meet each other also after and before the concert, it becomes time for another way of meeting him: for a book. Writing creates a very intense connection with the inner world. It is that inner world where Theodorakis writes about in his foreword. It helps to face the reality of the past, to understand, to find insight, truth, the deepest self, and to take the other, Mikis, into her personal private layers where not has been talked about, maybe, yet. Writing in general is also creating time for finding words that say all, at the same time nothing. Enough for the good “listener”, the one who can read between the lines, Mikis Theodorakis.
Then some remarks about the foreword. In a way Theodorakis confirms indeed totally what I sensed before I had read about the book and found his foreword. There are several points though where I do not agree with him. As usual. Arja Saijonmaa is not the greatest Scandinavian singer. For him, of course, but he has not any idea about the other Scandinavian singers, never heard them or about them. Arja is indubitably the only one he knows. To reward her for writing the book he names her the best, of course. I live in Norway, in Scandinavia, and there are several very excellent singers, performers. I would like to change the expression: “the greatest”, into “one of the greatest”.
Mikis Theodorakis names Arja Saijonmaa’s length. He himself is very tall, is reaching always far above the heads of people around him. I can imagine that he liked it to meet, talk and work with a woman who is tall as well.
He names indeed Maria Farantouri and Petros Pandis. In the following post I name these two as well. Strange enough he names also Antonis Kalogiannis. I gather from 2008 all videos with music of Mikis Theodorakis, but there are not so many videos with Antonis Kalogiannis. That has not changed yet. This is a sign of being not that popular as other performers. I have never seen concerts in which Antonis Kalogiannis is singing together with Maria Farantouri and Petros Pandis. During the Junta occupation, and the early years after the Junta occupation, yes, but he has not participated in not any concert hall in the way Maria Farantouri and Petros Pandis have performed. Arja Saijonmaa was on that stage, but there are “buts” around that. More about that in the next post: Theodorakis’ songs singers. Next to Maria Farantouri and Petros Pandis the name Georgios Dalaras fits and sounds so much better. He is the only other one who really deserves a place in the ultimate top-4 of Mikis Theodorakis interpreters in general. With all respect for Antonis Kalogiannis however, for what he meant for Greece for a while.
Theodorakis is utterly lyrical about Arja Saijonmaa, names her even a priestess. He goes beyond what any other human being ever would write or say, just to avoid question marks. He is maybe not even aware of question marks, nobody is when love takes over the reigns. In his foreword Mikis Theodorakis has maybe, or certainly, finally written what he (possibly or certainly) has felt all the years for her. Arja Saijonmaa succeeded with her book in reaching him again, catching the fish Theodorakis from the deep ocean of life where he started living another life, the life of the old man, not the composer anymore but the Spitha leader, who seemed to have forgotten his musical career. Finding him back there, deep inside, overwhelming him even, I guess, with the content of her book, the choice of her words, her free feminist (=not Greek style where he is used to) Scandinavian openness about even her own intimate femininity (as she already did in her Norwegian book about saunas), her female feelings and philosophy of life, so that finally also Theodorakis could not resist anymore to write down the longtime hidden and even suppressed or ignored (at least in public) cascade of deep pure feelings about and for Arja Saijonmaa. Only he who loves deeply can write these words. But maybe he is a charmer, a lady’s man. I prefer to chose the option of the lover.
Unfortunately I cannot read Greek, and therefore I will never know what exactly she has written, unless the book will be translated into English as well. I guess therefore that she could finally share all what she had to keep for herself as well, what she had to suppress, to battle during her entire life, and where she had found words for in the meantime. On the moment of writing the book Arja Saijonmaa is not that young woman anymore, she transformed her life, herself, and could write now as if she writes about somebody else, objective at the same time subjective, as the human being, without needing to unveil the deepest feelings with exact terms and clear direct sentences. Only Mikis Theodorakis can read between the lines, read her soul finally totally, into its most intimate parts. Therefore the book has for her, like for anybody else who writes a biography, a therapeutic effect.
Theodorakis describes her at the end as if all she is, is his work. He is proud. Partially she is his work, and partially he can be proud. That she could go through her life as she did, with this impossible but immense love, he has not any idea, but this is her work, her effort, and not his. He has not any idea how heavy that is. It is terror, Mikis. She was mostly alone. You had Myrto.
Finally I have one question left: what does Arja Saijonmaa know about Theodorakis’ political views and activities during the last ten years? His personal choice for Syriza when this party was founded, and started to be more and more popular? His influence in this, and reason why all pro-Theodorakis Greeks from the past voted for this party? Reason why Syriza won the elections in 2015 and reason why Greece fell into a deep abyss of economical catastrophes because amateurish Syriza was and is not capable to run a country in such a huge crisis as it was, even more now? For this issue I welcome Arja Saijonmaa to read my archived home pages. Even idols have dark sides, Arja.
On 4 February 2018 Mikis Theodorakis made a statement concerning the name Macedonia and FYROM. It was then that he distanced himself from Syriza, and criticized Syriza. More: mouse-over “News” in the menu of this blog.
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Additional information and references:
- Website Arja Saijonmaa: Mikis Theodorakis
- Website Arja Saijonmaa: The Music (and Mikis Theodorakis)
- Website Arja Saijonmaa: Background and Education
- Website Arja Saijonmaa: The Singer (and Mikis Theodorakis)
- Website Arja Saijonmaa: The Human Rights Activist
- Wikipedia: Arja Saijonmaa
- Expressen, 21 January 2008: Arja Saijonmaa had to break with her family
- Ilta Sanomat, Finland, 27 August 2017: The zealous live singer Arja Saijonmaa enjoys the freedom of creation: “In my private life I have not sacrificed anything”
- Studio 55, Finland, 8 December 2011: Arja Saijonmaa about her great love: emotions could not be shown publicly
- Yle, Finland, 27 November 2014: Arja Saijonmaa started singing to the world
- NRK TV Norway: Arja fra Norden. (29 August 1987)
- NRK TV Norway: Aldri på en lørdag (27 February 1983) (1. Start 3:33 2. Start 46:35)
- VisitDrammen, 1 December 2016: Mitt hjertes puls (about Arja’s book “En Ung Naken Kvinne”, “A Young Naked Woman”)
- AdLibris, book Arja Saijonmaa: SAUNA – Min väg till skönhet och inre ro
- Book Arja Saijonmaa (BiblioNet): Μια νέα γυναίκα αποκαλύπτεται
- Book Arja Saijonmaa (Culturenow): Μια νέα γυναίκα αποκαλύπτεται
- My post: Theodorakis’ songs singers (08 February 2018)
- Protothema, 16 December 2013: Ο Μίκης, η Φιλανδή «μούσα» του και ο Πάγκαλος
- E-tetradio, 16 December 2013: Το τραγούδι και η ποίηση μπορούν να αλλάξουν τον κόσμο
Updated: 10 February 2018
Updated: 11 February 2018