The Sámi people live across the borders of northern Scandinavia, Finland, and throughout the Kola Peninsula of north-western Russia. Joik is their characteristic vocal tradition, consisting of units of sound that have traditionally been used to invoke a person, animal, place, or experience. Formerly practiced by Sámi shamans in order to facilitate communication with the spirit world, traditional forms of joik continue to engage with the sacred on an essential level; one does not joik ‘about’ something; one simply joiks it.
My own relationship with joik began in earnest in 2011 when I travelled to the Norwegian Arctic to carry out research for my undergraduate dissertation into connections between joik, the Arctic environment and Sámi identity. I immediately felt a deep connection with joik, and I've been in love with it ever since, returning to Norway several times. On my debut EP (2017) I collaborated with the young Sámi joiker Marja Mortensson, and in 2016 I recorded a radio piece on 'joiking with rivers' for Outlook on the BBC World Service. In the same year I organised a concert for the acclaimed joiker Ánde Somby at Cafe OTO in London.
Joiking requires great skill, and the most accomplished Sámi joikers typically start learning at a young age and spend many years fine-tuning their art. This is part of what makes it beautiful, but it's also one of the reasons why joik can be incredibly difficult for outsiders to get to grips with. While joik virtuosity is not something a non-Sámi can realistically hope to achieve (unless you're prepared to dedicate a lifetime to it), I believe that the fundamental musical and philosophical components of joik are within reach for everyone. For the past two years I've held an introductory course at SOAS (University of London) for anyone interested in learning more about Sámi culture and joik.
I've also slowly gone about incorporating various elements of joik into my own songwriting and performance. In particular, I'm interested in creating a dialogue between joik and Celtic instrumental and vocal traditions, including Gaelic waulking song.
Listen to my Sámi joik playlist on Spotify.