Arja Saijonmaa considers Mikis Theodorakis her most important mentor and they have now worked together for more than 30 years. Mikis Theodorakis, known for, among other things, the music in the movie Zorba, was opposing the former military dictatorship in Greece and therefore forced into exile. Arja received her international breakthrough with her interpretations of Mikis Theodorakis' songs during a world tour 1970-72.
When Arja returned to the Nordic countries, after the world tour, she wanted to introduce Mikis Theodorakis to the Nordic audience. She got some of the best poets in the Nordic countries to work with Theodorakis' lyrics. Arja was then able to present Theodorakis' music and lyrics, translated by Lars Forsell and Pentti Saaritsa, to the Nordic audience who loved them.
She has worked with poets in order to translate and create her own interpretations of my songs; she has made the arrangements for the orchestra, she has contributed with her own, personal, interpretations and performed with them in hundreds of concerts, countless TV-shows and on many albums, says Mikis Theodorakis about his cooperation with Arja. The albums have sold very well, despite the fact that the lyrics are more poetic and political than so-called "mainstream" music.
Another important partner for Arja was the group Inti Illimani from Chile. The group had fled from Chile, ruled by the dictator Pinochet and re-settled in Rome. Arja brought them to the Nordic countries and recorded an album with the lyrics and music of Violeta Parras. The interpretation of Violeta Parras' Jag vill tacka livet has become a classic. It was with this song Arja performed at the funeral of the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986.
Arja Saijonmaa, with her own repertoire, has been the soloist with some of the most acclaimed symphony orchestras in the Nordic countries. She directs her own concerts, either together with a pianist or her own orchestra.
Arja has also performed with more "classic" popular music. She was one of the contestants in the Swedish Song Contest 1987 with Högt over havet that ended up in second place and later became a big hit. This song has received somewhat of a cult status and is still being played in discos and clubs. It is also popular among the younger audience. Arja was a contestant also in the Swedish Song Contest 2005 with the Eurodisco song Vad du än trodde, så trodde du fel.
Arja Saijonmaa has since her debut produced more than 35 albums and CD's in Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish, French, Greek and German. She has got one Diamond Record, 5 Gold Records and sold over 2 million records. Arja is unique as a Nordic artist, in the sense that she works in Finland, Sweden and Norway.
The stage is my home. When I'm on it something happens. Whatever that is, I can't and won't define. Something "clicks", it's there and then I am able reach out to the audience and meet it with my inner self, Arja Saijonmaa explains.
Many people consider Arja's biggest asset as a singer being her strong charisma, which renders that absolute presence on stage and immediate contact with the audience. When she performed in New York with, among other things, One Woman Show in connection with the campaign Scandinavian today during the 1980's, one critic from New York Post, Robert Kimball, wrote that her charisma could be compared with Josephine Baker's and Marlene Dietrich's. He writes:
"She has the talent, beauty, intelligence, versatility, charm, power, gentleness, vulnerability, sex appeal and the mystical quality of reaching and moving an audience... She has the charisma of a Josephine Baker or Marlene Dietrich. Arja can be searlingy honest in her music dramatizations of love and loneliness which she delivers with a big well-focused contralto."