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Mari Boine and the New Joik Revival

Updated on April 27, 2016

Mari Boine and Sami Joikh: Slip Into the Song and Move With It

In my adventures in world music, I have sampled many of the world's musical traditions. I've been active in Irish and other Celtic musics for more than 25 years. More recently, thanks to the ecstatic inspiration of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I have spent the past 15 years exploring the traditional, popular and classical music forms of Pakistan, India, Central and South America, many parts of Africa, Persia, the MIddle East and Eastern Europe. Amid this odyssey, however, I often wondered when I would get around to the traditional music of my own Scandinavian ancestors (I am primarily of Norwegian and Swedish descent).

It took several vocalists from Sapmi (the Sami or Saami territory of northern Scandinavia and northwestern Russia) to provide me a portal into Scandinavian music to a whole. It is Mari Boine, an internationally-famous musician and songwriter from Gamehisnjarga, in Norwegian Sapmi, to whom I am most indebted for this introduction to my own ancestral music. I hope one day to express my gratitude to her in person. Meanwhile, I continue to support her musical and artistic work from a distance.

Here is my Epinions review of Mari Boine's album Radiant Warmth (Antilles, 1996).

The photo above is © 2010 by Grete Langseth.

Mari Boine, Joikh and Sami Culture: Links and Resources - For your and my knowledge, edification and music library expansion!

More interesting links about Mari Boine, other Saami performers, and Sapmi as a whole will be added as I find them.

Saami Music, People and Culture on Video - This feature: Song Video--"Vuolgge mu mielde Bassivárrái"

Intense song video representing contentious and often oppressive relations between the indigenous Sami people and European missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Song video based on Mari Boine's "Come with Me to the Sacred Mountain.'

"Gula Gula" Was My Introduction to Scandinavian Music

My background is Scandinavian, and I hardly knew anything of its music...

In world music today, the traditional music of Sapmi, and its contemporary variants, are occupying a place of increasing prominence. This music, known as Joik or Joikh, is a vocal form with a long history (including a long period of prohibition and scapegoating as "the devil's music"), and plenty of scope for improvisation built into it, whether or not actual lyrics are used. Performers and bands throughout Scandinavia, Saami, or not, are employing this vocal form in their music; and newer forms, known by such terms as "technojoik" are springing up all the time. One singer from Norwegian Sapmi's north coast, Mari Boine, is one of the innovators within this tradition, and one of those responsible for plucking it away from obscurity. She was also virtually my first introduction to Scandinavian music at large, and I am primarily of Norwegian and Swedish ancestry.

Until several years ago, I knew very little of traditional Scandinavian music; and was mentally afflicted with stereotypes of rather dull waltzes played on fiddle, piano and accordion. So, world music buff that I am, I continued roaming musically around Africa and South Asia, hoping one day to discover native Scandinavian music that would excite and inspire me. At the same time, I began experimenting with improvised chant styles, mixing influences from Hebridean Gaelic mouth music and the powwow-inspired chants that Buffy Ste.-Marie used to enhance her contemporary Native American ballads.

It was while watching the opening ceremonies of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, that my opening into Scandinavian music finally revealed itself. One of the first performances of the standard-setting Norwegian ceremonies was a full-throated Saami joik by vocalist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää (actually from Finnish Sapmi). I had heard a little previously about joik singing, but this was the first live performance of a joik I had ever heard; and I sat in front of my television in my little basement room in Seattle, staring and listening to this singer, completely transfixed. This was an indigenous music of my own ancestors' part of Europe, a form of singing that seemed exotic, but oddly familiar at the same time.

Not long after that, as I read issues of Folk Roots magazine and purchased world music tapes and CDs on the British Real World music label, I began seeing references to a woman singer from Samiland or Sapmi by the name of Mari Boine Persen (she now goes by Mari Boine, without the prior surname). She was described as a joik vocalist as well, though her music incorporates elements of many indigenous traditions from across the world: she herself plays an African djembe drum, in addition to native Saami shamanic drums; and members of her band include instruments from Africa and Latin America in their arsenal. Once I found a cassette of her Real World release "Gula Gula" in the local Tower Records store, curiosity got the better of me, and I purchased a copy.

A very interesting thing happened to me within the first few seconds of the title track, an appeal to contemporary listeners to heed the advice of our foremothers against harming Mother Earth. Boine began the song with a joik-syllable passage before launching into the first verse. Immediately upon hearing this passage, something began stirring way down, deep in my guts, that had been buried and slumbering for most of my life. Whatever it was, it seemed to jump out of its sleep, listen to the joik, and exclaim, "Hey, I KNOW that sound!" The rest of the songs on this album simply reinforced and built upon the effect activated by the first song. I don't know if I have Saami ancestors or not. My Norwegian ancestors came mainly from the south coast, the wrong end of the country to have had much contact with their north coast Saami neighbors. My Swedish ancestors (on my mother's side) were based a bit farther to the north in their homeland, and would have stood a better chance of interaction with people within Swedish Sapmi, and with those Saami people who ventured south on commercial routes. Still, this music pulled at me in a very deep, grounding sort of way that, for example, Japanese koto music has not affected me to date.

Mari Boine was raised in a conservative Protestant religious tradition which emphasized hymn-singing and, unfortunately, frowned upon the Saami people's own music and culture. She and many in her generation, however, have begun challenging their internalized oppression and feelings of cultural inferiority; and the joik song tradition, indigenous spirituality, and other suppressed elements of the Saami culture have at last begun to reassert themselves. Boine has used the spiritually healing effects of her people's music to facilitate her reconciliation to her native cultural traditions; and she and her multiethnic band have embarked on a mission to bring a similar healing to oppressed peoples and cultures worldwide. Their music includes drones and solos by eclectic violinist Hege Rimstad, African and Latin American drums and stringed instruments, guitars, hammered dulcimer, and shamanic frame drums. However, the focus is always on Boine's passionate, soaring voice, as she sings verses and choruses, chants repetitive phrases, layers wordless passages over the lyrics, and segues into entrancing joik themes with hints of Native American powwow singing and other influences.

Through it all, I am listening and dancing in spirals across my floor, clockwise and then counter-clockwise, while my arms wander in snakelike motions as the music directs me. I have gone on to explore the traditional musics of Norway, Sweden and Finland at last, largely under Boine's influence. I listen to albums of hardingfele music by Ann-Bjorg Lien, south coast ballads by Kirsten Braten Berg (who hails from Arendal, my grandfather's hometown), and Swedish folk-rock by Vasen and Hedningarna, among others. I slip into the music of these artists and move with it now, as well, doing the European shamanic equivalent of the Lakota Sioux Ghost Dance--dancing with my own ancestors, instead of playing the African or Native American wannabe. I have yet to visit Norway or Sweden in person, just as I have not yet seen Mari Boine sing and dance live. Yet I feel, nonetheless, well on my way to a homecoming.

Where Sapmi and Its People Live

This is a new feature on this page. I want to start it off by locating Mari Boine's birthplace of Gamehisnjarga, Norwegian Sapmi, near the municipality of Karasjok, Finnmark.

A markerThis is the town in Finnmark province close to which Mari Boine was born and grew up. -
Karasjok, Finnmark, Norway
get directions

Mari Boine: Releases on Amazon - CDs and MP3 albums on Realworld and others...

Some of Mari Boine's more recent releases, and one from joiking rockers Intrigue!

Mari Boine: Performances and Videos - A compilation of Mari Boine and other well-known Saami artists and bands.

Recent performances by Boine herself are the focus of this new collection...

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

You'll connect with your readers. If you type a sentence here about why you love this video.

Reader Feedback... - Share your joikh experiences, cultural knowledge and the like...

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