24 July, 2008

I'm not joiking around (but maybe I should be)

Joik (Yoik): An indigenous song/chant of the Sami people of Northern Europe that is usually improvisational and cyclical, having neither a beginning nor an end. Often performed a cappella, these songs are also usually very personal, meaning that the theme is to some extent biographical. Yet a joik is not "about" the subject, a song that objectively witnesses an event, but in fact is dynamically and affectively shaping the subject as it is sung. Land, animals, and people can all be joiked, and this is actually as integral and spiritually important as the process of naming. Most interesting and important of all, a joik is not created once and forever. Instead, joiks are necessarily dynamic and constantly shifting which is one reason why the human voice is the instrument of choice for joiking.

I've listened to a little (very little) joiking, and it musically reminds me of a round performed solo. I realize that the very definition of a round requires that it not be performed solo, and yet the Sami singers that I've listened to have this amazing and enchanting ability to throw their voices in a way that makes them sound like they're harmonizing with themselves. Repetition is ubiquitous, as are surprising endings and fades that pop up in the middle of the chants at unexpected times.

I love the music. It sounds like the babbling and play-singing of children learning how to speak, and of adults who are carefree enough to hum without boundaries. It also has somewhat of a musical sister in scat-singing, which can be extremely playful, celebratory, and personal. It is closer to free poetry than storytelling, because of the large gaps and unexpected endings that leave the listener to continue the story at a later point. The songs are not perfect circles by any stretch of the imagination, but more like winding country roads that move in a way most comfortable for the land.

Creativity is unbound because the joik was not first created to be "art", but to be a social bonding and communal experience, a celebration of indigenous history, and an opportunity to be creative. For this reason there are very few "rules" to joiking, except that for expression's sake musical instruments are usually set aside and the chants should have no beginning or end.

I find this all extremely interesting, but I really am just beginning to learn about this music. Here are a few sites with more information than I can offer at this time.

The Sami Yoik

"The Joy of Joiking"

The Complete Guide to Sami Music and Joiking Online

"Joik and the theory of knowledge" by Ande Somby

If you're interested, then you can also pick up an album containing 58 joiks on iTunes. It's called Lappish Joik Songs From Northern Norway, and contains various intriguing performances.

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