Days of innocence remembered

Even as time goes by, there are still moments when certain children’s songs, little numbers that were sung during playtime at home or in the school yard, can return to the lips. A new double CD by Domna Samiou, «O Kyr Vorias… kai alla tragoudia yia paidia,» comprising 36 children’s songs hailing from every corner of the Hellenic world, as well as a DVD containing interesting footage about the album’s creation, evokes such thoughts. Now 80 years old, Samiou, a long-serving researcher and performer of traditional Greek music, recorded the album with the help of young students from a nearby primary school in her Nea Smyrni neighborhood in Athens. Samiou’s deliberate choice of a school ensemble rather than a more professional children’s choir acts as a vital element in this project’s impressive, if not moving, outcome. Samiou and her primary school collaborators aside, this release also features a cast of marvelous musicians and renowned singers from the traditional music field – Zacharias Karounis, Katerina Papadopoulou, Vangelis Dimoudis, Nikos Economidis and Michalis Zabas. Are these new recordings? Is this you singing today, with such a vibrant, crystal-clear voice? And I’m 80 years old, right? But, look, my boy, I’ve cared for my voice. I don’t drink or smoke. There was no abuse. When I was young, though, I smoked for a while as I stupidly imitated those around me. But after two or three months, I thought, «What am I doing to my voice?» and stopped. As for the schoolchildren on the album, why didn’t you work with an existing children’s choir? No way. These are European choirs, my boy. I wanted little voices, totally pure and not trained for control or quality. So I went to the school and the headmistress gave me her consent. I brought them home – about 20 of them – sat them on the rug in the living room and taught them the songs. They absorbed it all immediately. How did these children, who are more in tune with contemporary TV and songs, react to such older songs. Look, a child is unable to judge whether a song is old or new. A child simply likes to sing. Of course, I explained to them that these songs were very old and that they were sung by their grandfathers and grandmothers. But they liked them. On the way out, they’d go down those stairs – I live on the fourth floor – singing the songs I’d taught them an hour earlier. In the album’s liner notes you express concern about the way children are growing up today. Things have changed drastically since the days when I was a child. Back then, a child grew up in a society that was more reserved… Nowadays, there’s madness all over. And that greatly affects the way children grow up. Take the seasons. They just breeze through without us realizing anything. The same goes for celebrations, except for Christmas and Easter. But Christmas used to be a very significant celebration for children. It wasn’t just shopping and decorative lighting, as it’s become today. It wasn’t just a time for material things. Today’s children do not know about the past, they have no taste of a more human, sweeter way of life. So, these little songs serve as a reminder. When did you select the songs? It’s material I’ve had throughout my career. A while back, in 1980, I released my first children’s compilation, «Perperouna.» This time, we put out a set of other songs – a much bigger collection that includes some of my favorites. The melodies and rhythms are simple enough for all children to sing, and the lyrics are very interesting. The first of the two CDs contains songs for young children. The second one is for older children with songs that tell stories, as is noted by the folklorist Miranda Terzopoulou in the liner notes. I received lots of help from Socrates Sinopoulos in the arrangements, Daphne Tzaferi in production and my friends at our society, the Folk Music Artistic Society, helped with various other things. I’ve noticed that, nowadays, your albums are released by your society, not record labels. Yes, they’re releases put out by our society. It’s short of cash and I pitch in. Fortunately, we’ve had support from sponsors who help release these albums. OPAP (the state gaming organization) helped for «Tis fysis kai tou erota,» which we released this time last year, the Niarchos Foundation helped for «Istorika kai kleftika» last March and Johannes Karcher helped for this album. If it weren’t for them… Can these releases be found at music stores? I think so, yes. They’re distributed by Metropolis (major local music retailer). Just in case, if needed, the telephone number at the society is 210.935.6801. You’ve released three double albums over the past year. Do you still have much unreleased material? Tons of it. Now that I no longer perform because of my age, I’ve been able to be more active with the [traditional] material I’ve collected over the years. Before I go, I want to leave it behind, recorded. What’s next, then? Well, lately, I’ve felt charmed by the following: Listening to the authentic recordings of [traditional] songs I’ve collected throughout my life – I painstakingly saved money in the 60s and purchased a Uher recording unit which I took all over Greece with me – I am mesmerized by the interpretations rendered by those simple people who sang for me at various locations. And I want to release a series of CDs containing the most interesting of these human voices. Of course, I’m not going to include your toothless old lady who sang for me. I’m going to choose the songs that were delivered cleanly and with interesting color. Look here. This is my catalog of recordings. I’ve been listening and assessing – and I’m not going to add any instruments, either. I’ll just let the renditions be as they are – the authentic voices of our people.