Friday, July 20, 2007

Shrouded in Mystery: Defining the Sami Yoik

Mari Boine, courtesy of NorthSide

(I wrote this article a decade ago.  I can't vouch for its accuracy since I have since learned more about Sami yoiks and music since 2003).

Although the Sami (also Saami or Sàmi) are ancestors of the original Finn, (Finland), first discovered by the Romans around 10 AD, contemporary Sami people proves just as innovative and resourceful as their ancestors with a unique flare for modern technology. Both Sami art and music has flourished internationally. And the Sami people once tormented by the Christian church of the northern climes and the so-called civilized Swedes, Norwegians and other arctic dwellers, have proven that they are here to stay, both in Europe and North America. The Sami who once watched their shamans and drums burn during the inquisitions are back beating drums and performing yoiks (also joiks), a vocalization practice that is considered one of Europe's oldest living traditions. And similar to the circle that appears on the Sami flag, Sami musicians include people from all cultures in their repertoire.

Today, you will find electric guitars, keyboards and drum machines embellishing yoiks or you will find award-winning joikers performing classic yoiks a cappella. Many yoikers such as Wimme (Finland), Inga Juuso (Norway), Mari Boine (Norway), Ailo Gaup (Norway) and Ulla Pirttijarvi (Finland) have garnered an international following as well as, working with other well-known non-Sami musicians and producers. Wimme has worked with Hedningarna and Hector Zazou and Mari Boine has collaborated with Bill Laswell. And the popular Finnish group, Varttina has even featured yoiks on their recordings. I read an article awhile back about Sami musicians collaborating with Inuit musicians. This didn't surprise me since both cultures practice throat-singing and derive from a nature-based religion tied in with the cycles of the Arctic Circle where they reside. And I read in an interview with Wimme that when he first discovered recordings of his uncles' yoiks, he found a resemblance between yoiks and Navajo chants.

Frozen Moments, a live recording marries flamenco, yoiks and classical Indian music. Orbina II takes a more ambient rock approach with Celtic coloring and Anders P. Bongo provides 50 classical yoiks in the traditional a cappella format. All three recordings were released on the innovative Norwegian label, DAT that produces books and music featuring the Sami heritage. You will find contact information at the end of this article. Other recordings include a cappella yoiks by Jvvar Niillas and fellow Norwegian yoiker Ingor Antte Ailu Gaup performing with Fri Flyt.

Frozen Moments features Inga Juuso (yoiks), Johan Sara Jr. (yoiks, guitar, producer), Erik Steen (flamenco guitar, producer), Rogelio De Badajoz Duran (flamenco vocals), and Jai Shankar Sahajpal (tabla and vocals) and as anyone might imagine, this collaboration offers plenty of virtuoso moments. This group of musicians pushes both rhythmic and vocal boundaries. One could hardly call their performance a frozen moment since there is nothing icy or stagnate about this passionate music that leaps over borders and sets fire to false cultural perceptions. And the performers also set flame to any rules that pertain to their various musical disciplines.

For instance, Voices showcases yoiks, throat-singing, classical Indian vocals along with flamenco cante. The end result is the strangest and most beautiful a cappella composition my ears have ever witnessed. And all the tracks on this recording dole out similar surprises, sometimes leaving a listener yearning for words to describe the music. Inga performs a solo yoik on Harsh Spring, Petenera features a duet with Rogelio on voice and Erik on flamenco guitar while Jai's tabla contributions are highlighted throughout the recording. Yet, the true musical power happens when these five musicians collaborate. Frozen Moments not only appeal to iconoclastic thinkers, but also to musicians wishing to explore other musical territories and to music lovers in general.

The Norwegian group, Orbina that is comprised of Inga Juuso (yoiks), Leif Isak Nilut (yoiks), Klemet Anders Buljo (yoiks, guitars), Bjorn Ole Rasch (keyboards) with Svein Schultz (bass), Rune Arnesen (drums) and Hans Fredrik Jakobsen (flute and bagpipes) offers ultra-modern yoiks. And in fact, the music that appears on Orbina II carries an ambient rock sensibility colored with Celtic overtones. On one hand, the music is similar to Wimme's electronic yoiks, but then it also resembles Mari Boine's jazz renderings. And the Celtic influence probably comes with Norway's ancient ties to Scotland. Also for those readers familiar with Norwegian folks root music, will recognize Bjorn Ole Rasch as Norwegian violinist Annbjorn Lien's musical partner. It does however lack the trance-inducing magic realism found in Wimme's recordings.

Mortena Sàrà falls into light acid jazz while Jeagge-Jussà feels experimental. Boade features a duet with male and female yoiks and Gàisi carries Celtic influences complimented by a flute. Lemet Ante takes this approach further by introducing bagpipes and flute and highlighting a yoik by Anders P. Bongo.

And speaking of Anders P. Bongo, his second CD, Dolin released earlier this year, offers traditional yoiks sung a cappella. Anders performs 50 yoiks, all composed for those who have passed away. The yoiks are all under two minutes long and some of the yoiks feature double vocal tracks.

Anders hails from Kautokeino in Northern Norway and he is dedicated to keeping one of Europe's oldest living traditions alive. His yoiks, like all yoiks are dedicated to people, a landscape or an animal, but in this case, he dedicates the yoiks to people who have died. Yet, the reindeer herder and award-winning yoiker won't bring tears of despair to your eyes while honoring the dead. And he might even inspire musicians to learn more about the vibrant Sami culture.

Sharing much in common with Anders P. Bongo, Norwegian reindeer herder, fisherman and farmer Jvvar Niillas also performs a cappella yoiks on his recording, Deh2. In his late 70's, Jvvar presents 29 short yoiks (under 2 minutes long) sung in his gravely voice. The CD was released in 2002 by a small label, Hommat out of Norway. The yoiks or traditional songs come from the Buolbmat district and after a few listens you might even call the yoiks endearing. For obtaining this recording, try sending an E-mail message to

The Norwegian group Fri Flyt represents an eclectic collection of musicians fuse klezmer, gypsy, chansons and yoiks into a multicultural musical stew. Featuring Danish clarinetist Peter Bastian, yoiker Ingor Antte Ailu Gaup, vocalist Gabriel Fliflet and violinist Oluf Dimitri Roe, Fri Flyt creates an acoustic musical backdrop where Sami and Jewish and gypsy cultures meet, court each other and then marry. Nihkaid sounds oddly French with its wash of accordion. Elvi might be called a chamber orchestra piece, but most of the tracks fall into in the hard to describe genre. Flyr fritt was released in Norway in 2001, but you might be able to obtain a copy by contacting, Gabriel Fliflet by E-mail,

If someone asked me at this point to define a Sami yoik, I doubt that I could because the ancient tradition, dating back thousands of years has shapeshifted into the modern world. The groups Wimme, Mari Boine and Orbina have dressed up the yoik with jazz renderings and electronica. Mari's songs carry a mystical element, are sung for the most part in a Sami dialect and her lyrics refer to Sami traditions. Wimme Saari's yoiks touch noses with the shamanic tradition despite their electronic backdrop. Anders P. Bongo and Jvvar Niillas on the otherhand offer personal yoiks sung to people, in the case of Bongo's yoiks, desceased people are being honored.

I have also noticed that Sami musicians have been expanding outward and embracing musical traditions from other cultures as is the case with Fri Flyt and the ensemble that appears on Frozen Moments. However, even more intriguing and I haven't found any recordings yet, I heard rumors that Sami musicians have collaborated with Inuit and Navajo musicians. I have also seen Sami flutes (even though I read that they only had the drum as a traditional instrument) that resemble the flutes of Native Americans of the Plains and the Southwest (US).

Actually, I love the fact that the Sami yoik is hidden behind a thick veil of history. And I am comfortable with the modern yoiks in my collection. I would give anything to travel back in time and witness the original yoiks used in the context of a nature-based religion. And I wouldn't mind if the original shamans reappeared on the planet. I have dreamt of such a day, but until the impossible becomes possible, I will continue my quest discovering nuggets from this ancient culture.

This article can also be found at

c 2003 P. L. Herlevi

Article: Power Songs Will Make You Strong

Power Songs Make You Strong

Recently I encountered someone who wanted to know if punk music was good energy for a hard workout. After we discussed punk music and its lyrical content, intuitively I felt that there must be better music for an intense workout (physical exercise).

I came home and without thinking much about it, I pulled out some new releases of Native American pow-wow songs. And the thought came to me that the warrior energy and heartbeat drum present in pow-wow and even round dance songs of the Native American people lends itself well to a powerful workout. The drum beat alone can drive a person through walking, running or other aerobic type exercise.

Of course I am not an expert, so you will have to experiment on your own. However, I am listing some recent pow-wow recordings put out by Canyon Records with a brief description of the content on the recordings. For more information go to:

Blacklodge's Watch This Dancer! features rumbling pow-wow songs of the Cree and Blackfeet tribes. Led by Kenny and Algin Scabby Robe, these drummers and singers perform Chicken Dance, intertribal, grassdance and women traditional songs. Washingtonians can feel a certain pride as they listen to this Washington-based group, while doing their workout or just for an afternoon listening pleasure.

The ever prolific Canadian pow-wow troupe, Northern Cree join up with their friends once again for another round of round dance songs. Although the musicians do not bring out the big community drum (as in pow-wow drumming), they bang away at their hand drums (frame drums). Northern Cree's Calling All Dancers (volume 6 in a series), brings on a celebratory mood and perhaps this CD would lend itself well to a workout with good friends or a good friend.

THA Tribe, another prolific Canyon Records powwow troupe, returns with another live recording, Blue Scout. This group features a lot of tongue and cheek lyrics, and a musical mix that lends itself well to the younger generations. Powerful drumming connects with fiery vocals and there's even a song called Crow Hop, whose title caught my attention.

Thunderhill's The Clash of the Titans features a collection of contest and intertribal songs that were recorded live at San Carlos. This recording, led by songmaker, Cheevers Toppah, (who also records meditative music), has a grounding effect. And as would be true for pow-wow recordings in general, but not necessarily the more entertaining ones, Clash of the Titans not only lends itself well for a workout, but can connect us to the earth.

Wild Rice (Songs from the Menoinee Nation), hails from the American woodlands (Wisconsin). This recording featuring Myron Pyawasit, Wayne Silas Jr., Gil-Shik Pyawasit and Shane Webster has slightly different feel than the other pow-wow recordings mentioned thus far. With a mix of contemporary pow-wow songs, round dance and two-step songs, a variety is offered. And similar to many Canyon Records CDs, a wealth of material can be gleaned from the linernotes so your brain can also get a workout.

On a final note, if you are seeking cool down music, try listening to recordings by Burning Sky (Canyon), R. Carlos Nakai (Canyon), Joanne Shenandoah or Mary Youngblood (Silverwave), Andrew Vasquez and Joseph Fire Crow (Makoche). Or for a longer list, visit Cranky Crow Whole Music Native American Music page.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Excerpt from Powerful Language of Music paper

Finnish Runo-Song

According to renowned metaphysician Ted Andrews in his book, Sacred Sounds, "Every society, tradition, and religion has had teachings both magical and wondrous. The relaying and demonstrating of these wondrous teachings fell to individuals who were schooled in the natural and spiritual laws of the universe." (Andrews, 2001, 2003, p.ix). These were the ancient priests, priestesses, magicians, and shamans they we often hear archaeologists mention.

Those of us who research the origins of music, also read about prehistoric flutes and drums. And every culture, both nomadic and sedentary has possessed some type of fiddle, lute, flute and drum--everything from shepherds flutes, oracles lyres and medieval harps. These ancient and not-so ancient cultures also possessed the knowledge of healing with the power of sound and words. Many of these healing words were embedded in myths and legends, such as the Finnish national treasure, the Kalevala or the Icelandic Elder Edda. It was not enough to tell an accompanied story, an initiate needed to understand the sacred symbolism hidden in the various phrases and one needed to know which story to recite depending on the various tribal occasions.

Although sound healers and musicians today employ various instruments such as drums, flutes and harps in their healing modalities, many ancient healing traditions are extinct or about to be. According to a National Geographic News article, "Lord of the Rings Inspired by an Ancient Epic," first published in 2001, only one Finnish shamanic elder, Jussi Houvinen exists in Finland who understands the healing powers of the epic Kalevala. (Handwerk, 2001, 2004, online).

National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, Wade Davis had traveled to Finland to research the shamanic aspects of the pre-Christian era, Finnish legend. The oral tradition which is sung by what are known as, rune singers is a thousands year old tradition that has been passed down from singer to singer. According to Davis, "In an oral tradition, the total richness of the language is no more than the vocabulary of the best storyteller. In other words, at any one point in time the boundaries of the language are being stretched according to the memory of the best storyteller."

National Geographic News journalist Handwerk reported, "In what was the Viena Karelia region, the oral tradition of the Finnish language is still alive, but now contained in the memory of just a single storyteller. His name is Jussi Houvinen, and he is Finland's last rune singer. This elderly man is a living link to myths and languages that have been passed mouth-to-ear over the ages in an unbroken chain."

Powerful stories have been extracted from the legend and transformed into children's literature and folk-pop groups such as Värttinä and Hedningarna have modernized the old shamanic rune songs that were once sung by initiates. The language and shamanic magic and healing intent has all but been lost because these musicians and children's storytellers lack the intent and training of a shamanic initiate so it is possible that the power of this oral legend will fade into the mist of time, at least in Finland. We will be left however with a few token souvenirs.

However, Norwegian vocalist and kantale player, (a harp that derives from the Kalevala Legends), Sinikka Langeland and kantale player, Ove Berg discovered remnants of the rune song tradition on wax-cylinders recordings of shamanic elders. Langeland and Berg featured those archival recordings along with contemporary rune songs on their CD, Tirun Lirun. While the featured elders, Puro-Juhoin Pekka and Kaisa Vilhuinen passed away during the early part of the last century, Langeland and Berg featured archival interviews with the elders on their label, Finnskogen Kulturverksted web site. The site lists a selection of rune songs with healing effects.

In my World Music Central article, "Rune Songs: Vainamoinen Returns," (Herlevi, 2004), I mention a quote that appears on the label's web site of what one of the last shamans, Puro-Juhoin Pekka told the last wise woman in Finnskogen, Kaisa Vilhuinen. "'You must not place the sword in the hands of a fool; With sorcery both good and evil can be done.' And often is in both legends and reality in places where this sort of magic is practiced. The rune songs featured on this CD were once used to protect people and their animals, to heal wounds and to cast a spell over bees."

Further in the article, "The rune songs that appear on Tirun Lirun run the gamut of epic poetry, such as track 4, "Vainamoinen" (from Kalevala Legends), to practical purposes, (the shamanic-inspired "Rollota" used to fire up the oven). "Kanteleensoitto" is an epic song that focuses on the musical instrument kantale (a lap harp believed in the legend to have been created by the shaman Vainamoinen). "Anfallsrune" is an incantation against fits and "Turskarune" is an incantation against wounds. "Jonnrune/Raudan jalgea" can stop a wound from bleeding and according to Professor Timo Leisio, 'The Skogfinn's runes to heal open wounds are so remarkable that they should be the subject of comprehensive research.'" (World Music Central, 2004, online).

However, some ancient healing musical traditions still thrive today, mainly because the traditions were passed down through generations of healers. Mainly these traditions can be found on the African continent and the Indian subcontinent.