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Domna Samiou (Greek: Δόμνα Σαμίου; 12 October 1928 – 10 March 2012) was a prominent Greek researcher and performer of Greek folk music. She received her first formal musical training from Simon Karas. For over half a century she has been collecting, recording and performing all over the world the traditional songs of Greece (demotika), appealing not only to the Greek diaspora, but also introducing non-Greek audiences to traditional Greek folk music.
Born in the poor district of Kaisariani, Athens in 1928 (one of many neighbourhoods established with the influx of Greek refugees from Turkey in 1922), Samiou was the daughter of Greek refugees from the village Bayındır near Smyrna in Asia Minor. Her mother fled to Greece in 1922, whilst her father, who was a prisoner of war, arrived slightly later during the exchange of populations. During her childhood years she lived the harsh life of a refugee, but was also surrounded with the humane solidarity of the refugee communities. It was there that she acquired her deep connection with popular culture and her love for folk music.
At the age of thirteen, whilst attending night school, Domna Samiou received her first formal musical training from Simon Karas at the Association for the Dissemination of National Music, where she was tutored in Byzantine and folk music, as well as being introduced to the idea of field research in music. Her first professional collaboration was with the National Radio Foundation (E.I.R.), the state-run national radio station of Greece at the time, when she was a member of the Simon Karas choir. In 1954 she became a full-time employee of the station, working in the National Music Section, in effect the folk music section of E.I.R.. Through her work there, she came into contact with the leading traditional musicians of the day, who were part of a great wave of migration from the countryside to Athens. The National Music Section was busy recording them and, as a result, Domna became acquainted with all their various local musical styles. She was herself responsible for supervising records, stage plays and films.
In 1963 Domna Samiou started touring the countryside independently, to record music for the archive she was establishing. Then, in 1971, she left her radio job entirely to focus on her own musical career, accepting an invitation by the composer and performer Dionyssis Savvopoulos to sing at a club called Rodeo, frequented by a youthful anti-junta audience. It marked the beginning of Domna Samiou's impact and influence on generations of young people in Greece. Soon after, she performed at the Bach Festival in London, run at the time by Lila Lalandi. It was a triumphant start to a brilliant musical career: “It made people overcome the embarrassment they felt for folk music”, as she herself stated later.
In 1974, she started her collaboration with Columbia Records, which resulted in a number of LPs over the next years. In 1976-77, together with film directors Fotos Lambrinos and Andreas Thomopoulos, she toured the Greek countryside and produced twenty episodes of 'Musiko Odiporiko' ('Musical Travelogue') on Greek national television (ERT).
In 1981, the Domna Samiou Greek Folk Music Association was founded to preserve and promote Greek traditional music and facilitate the production of records and musical events to the highest standards, free from the demands of commercial record companies. Within Greece, Domna Samiou’s performances and appearances have been innumerable. She collaborated with renowned Greek and foreign musicians, musicologists, anthropologists and ethnomusicologists; from 1994 to 2004, she taught traditional folk singing at the Museum of Popular Musical Instruments of Athens; she also initiated, taught, and promoted many young musicians, and actively and selflessly undertook numerous initiatives to improve musical education in primary schooling, which she considers of vital importance. Tributes to her work have been numerous and honours and prizes abundant. In October 1998, a concert was held at the Athens Concert Hall – Domna Samiou at the Megaron Mousikis: the known and the unknown Domna – to celebrate her seventieth birthday. And in 2005, the President of Greece, K. Stefanopoulos, awarded her a medal of honour.
But Domna Samiou's work reaches way beyond the borders of Greece. For forty years, she performed all over the world, in places as distant as Australia and South America, appealing not only to the Greek diaspora, but also introducing non-Greek audiences to “Greek music with no Bouzouki”, as one critic in Sweden put it. Her records have been produced under Swedish and French labels. At the time of her death, she was involved in producing a thematic series of CDs, accompanied by extensive informative booklets on the contents. She was also organising her personal archive and was preparing to make it available on the Internet.
She died on March 10, 2012, following a short illness.
Published by Domna Samiou Greek Folk Music Association.
- Folk fables in song (2008).
- I tread the earth gently (2008).
- Songs of history and heroes (2007).
- The Great North Wind and other traditional songs for children (2007).
- Of nature and of love (2006).
- The Akolouthia Of Nymphios (2002).
- Songs of Dame Sea (2002).
- Domna Samiou at Megaron, The Athens Concert Hall (1999).
- Easter Songs (1998).
- Kaneloriza (1995).
- Carnival Songs (1994).
- Songs about Greeks far from home (1992, produced by UNHCR).
- Songs of Asia Minor (1991).
The archive material
Domna Samiou systematically recorded folk songs from every part of Greece. The material, constituting the Domna Samiou Archive, belongs to the 'Domna Samiou Greek Folk Music Association', and includes around 2.500 songs from villages, settlements and towns of the Greek territory. These recordings, both on analogue tapes and cassettes, were loaned to the Music Library of Greece “Lilian Voudouri”, in order to be digitised. Most of the people who participated in these recordings are no longer alive, a fact that gives the recordings a special significance and unique value. Through this archive material, the manners and customs, as well as the music tradition of Greece remain alive. The Association is preparing this material to make it available on the Internet.