Joik – Sami musical expression

 

Joik has been part of the Sami culture since ancient times. Joiking is used to express relationships to people and nature. Traditionally, joiks have no lyrics, or very few. They usually consist of chanting, not unlike that found in some Northern American indigenous cultures. They can also include mimicry of animal sounds. Joik melodies can occasionally have longer lyrics, which are often improvised.

Joik can be performed for purposes of entertainment, but they can also have a spiritual function. In past times, a noaidi (Sami shaman) could perform joik whilst beating on a Sami drum, to contact the spiritual world.

Most people acquire their own melody, like a signature tune. Because the melody is so closely associated with the person, Sami speak of “joiking someone” rather than “joiking about someone”. These joiks could depict, for example, someone´s appearance or personality. It is considered poor behaviour to perform your own joik – it is seen as a kind of boasting. But other Sami can joik your joik in front of you. In courtship, a prospective partner can perform the joik of the person they are interested in.

Most joik melodies are about people, but also animals and places can have their own joiks. Whereas new person-joiks are constantly being composed and amended, most of the animal joiks have existed for a long time. These older joiks can be about animals that are important in the Sami landscape, such as wolves, reindeer, or birds such as ducks. Sami herdsmen can create joik when they are out with their reindeer. These joik are largely improvised and can reflect a landscape, atmosphere or event.

During the Christianization of the Sami from the 1700s on, joiking was condemned as sinful. One of the reasons that joiking was controversial was its association with noaidi and magical practices. Under the Norwegianization policy, joiking was forbidden or discouraged in certain areas. Nevertheless it is still alive as a means of expression.  Moreover, joik has nowadays acquired a new value as a cultural symbol, and is being applied in new contexts.

(Source: Adapted from information produced by and for Tromsø Museum)

 

Below you can hear some different kinds of joik. The first is a traditional joik performed by a Sami herder from Northern Sweden. The other links are to modern versions of joik. The second video is made by Sofia Jannok, who is a well-known Sami singer from Northern Sweden. The third is “heavy joik” – a heavy metal version of joiking.

Traditional joik:

Sofia Jannok:

Heavy joik:

 

Tasks

Discuss:

  1. What is joik? What is its function in Sami society?
  2. Listen to the music in the videos. Are they like music you have heard before? Why/ why not?
  3. Which aspects of joik do you think are specific to the Sami? Do you think they reflect something special about Sami culture or the area in which the Sami live?
  4. Which senses do you use when you listen to music? What is important when you listen to music, for example, lyrics, melody, atmosphere, or memories recreated?

Reflection:

Choose a music form that is either traditional for your culture or is a form of music that you listen to a lot. Now, write a text reflecting on the following questions:

What is this music aiming to express?

What is the cultural background of this music and how is that reflected in the music (or how has the culture in which this music is created helped to form it)?

Which of your senses does this music appeal to (or if you don´t like it personally, which senses is it meant to appeal to)?

Some more joik:

Sami joik has also been performed on the international stage. In 1980, Samiid Ædnan, a song about the Sami and with a joik chorus, represented Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest. They came in 16th place.

(Samiid Ædnan, by Mattis Hætta and Sverre Kjeldsberg)

 

On 22 July 2011, Norway experienced a major tragedy, when 77 adults and children were murdered by Anders Behring Breivik. The following year, a memorial concert was held outside Oslo City Hall. Mari Boine, a well-known Sami singer, performed the following song, with elements of joik. She is singing in the Sami language: