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March 1, 2012
What Makes Sami Run?
Sami the Great isn't about to go nuclear on anyone asking for an explanation of her Iranian/Jewish roots.
Although she does understand their concern.
"While I was growing up, I really didn't get it," says the Upper Dublin anti-diva of a singer. "It wasn't until I got older and more political that I understood the interest."
Indeed, born to a Jewish American mom and an Iranian Muslim dad seems like a natural-born conflict, an upbringing bringing on headaches and headlines.
"I knew, as I got older, about Muslims and Jews warring against each other," but her Mideast yin and yang was yoked around reality -- loving parents who made love, not war, the focus of conversation over the dinner table.
Maybe that's what makes the talented singer so great.
Indeed, Sami Akbari says that harmony is key to her career as a singer.
But first comes heartbreak; that's the theme that breaks the sound barrier of her latest just-released self-named CD www. samithegreat.com.
Is she riffing on relationships gone bad? Disappointments over disparagements?
No, just from -- life, explains the 28-years-old Roanoke College grad who moved to New York after school and has made a living out of appearances at such spots as its famed Living Room.
But there's been room to grow and this album may be the growth chart she wanted all along. But then there are those who would accept growing apart: The disappointments, voiced in "Sami the Great," also come from the feeling of alienation she had at times growing up in a melting-pot family that caused some internecine boiling points.
The history major has a major history to talk about. "We moved to Iran for a while," she says of her family's extended trip, made when she was in fifth grade.
Made in order to spend time with her dad's family, still living in Iran, the decision was akin to having a rug pulled out from under her mother's family's feet. "They were not happy about it."
To say the least: "My mother's side rejected her marriage," says the singer. Indeed, her mother "didn't speak to her own mother" for years.
"I met my maternal grandmother once or twice in her life," she says, noting that "she'd cut me out of family pictures."
National heartbreak hit home as well. Just after 9/11, "suddenly everyone freaked out about me," with people who should have known better edging away after the tragedy.
It's not as if anyone said anything explicit. "No one thought I was a terrorist," she says.
But for those who see her surname and surmise the mental circus it evokes -- well, notes Sami the Great, "That is not what I am about."
What she is all about is the music, she says. And the music speaks eloquently, elegiacally.
She is out touring now in support of her great CD, with hopes that Philly -- which she has played before with the release of her two previous albums -- will join the bandwagon soon.
As for as her handle, Sami the Great: Isn't that a bit of bravado? Why not just go all the way with Sami the Greatest, the translation of her Iranian last name?
"Oh, no," she says with a laugh. "Now that would have been obnoxious."