Theater of Cruelty

Real Sami powder

The Sami band Adjagas writes their own joics, wrapping them in music inspired by rock, country and reggae. Monday comes the debut album.


Blue in Oslo, Thursday 3 November: Siberian throat singer Albert Kuvezin and the band Yat-Kha make hefty versions of Led Zeppelin and Joy Division songs. During the concert, which was part of the Oslo World Music Festival, Kuvezin points out how his steppe song is reminiscent of the Sami joik, and it showed that he had lent an ear to the warmers of the evening. Because before Yat-Kha took the stage, the young joykers Lawra Somby and Sara Marielle Gaup in the Adjagas group had done their thing to show how joik can sound in 2005.

Adjagas tears the yoke apart from both the traditions and the modern connections to jazz and electronics we have become accustomed to. Instead, the band draws its inspiration from hard-hitting rock, low-key country and even reggae. The debut single "Mun Ja Mun", South Sámi from "I and I", takes its title from Jamaica, more specifically the Rastafarian "I and I" expression – which is used to show ties to both God, spirit traps and the outside world.

- "Mun Ja Mun" is not a Sami expression, but is directly translated from Jamaican. The expression has a double meaning that I recognize myself in. I am half Southern Sami and Northern Sami, and there are two different worlds, with languages ​​that are as far apart as Norwegian and German. "I and I" refers to the fact that I am both North Sami and South Sami, at the same time as it refers to a larger "we" – the South Sami people. I have a South Sami background, but do not know much about either language or history. The feeling reminds me Lord of the Rings, as the elves leave Midgard. I have the same sense of loss compared to my South Sami roots, says Somby.

According to Sami mythology, then joik is also originally an omnipotent language, left to the Sami by the omnipotent people the wool. They must have existed in a different dimension than ours, but at the same time and in the same place. Thus, only the few people can see the wool and their white flocks.

- When we had a visit from a friend, he suddenly boasted of the beautiful white reindeer he saw outside the car window. But when the rest of us looked, none of us saw a single reindeer.

Lightning career

Adjagas is a new band, but is about to make a lightning career. They warmed up for the Kaizers Orchestra during Bylarm this year, and were invited to open the Glastonbury Festival in England (the concert was canceled due to bad weather). Then they yoiked during the Mandela concert in Tromsø, and on December 2 they warm up for Madrugada in Oslo Spektrum. Fittingly, since "adjagas" in Sami means almost the same as Spanish "madrugada" (the blue hour before sunrise).

- Adjagas is the condition you are in while you wake up or just before you fall asleep. Most of my yoiks occur in this state, preferably late at night, and I am not always aware of what they are about until they are finished writing. Then we write music for the yoiks, where we take our starting point in the emotions in each yoik.

He grew up in Oslo, with a skilled yoiker as his father, but did not even yoik Somby until he was 17 years old. The desire arose after his father had been a lecturer during a major event in Karasjok, where he complained that there were so few young people who wanted to do something as beautiful as yoiking.

- I took it as a personal challenge, and sat down with a cassette with classic joiking. I listened to it incessantly, but only after a week did I manage to grab one of the yoiks on the cassette. I practiced in complete secrecy with my father, and only after three months did I show what I could do during an indigenous week in Geneva.

Seen as a sin

His father was impressed, and Somby continued to yoke. But he believes joiking is still a stigmatized form of expression among the Sami, and places much of the blame on Laestadianism that rode the grandparent generation.

- The religious revival in Sami land meant that card games, singing and dancing were considered a sin, and therefore joiking was looked down upon. It was only the outcasts, the rebels and the drunks who kept the tradition alive, and the yoik is still very injured as a result. I can count today's young yoikers in Sameland on my fingers.

Joiking was banned at several schools in Finnmark until the 1970s, and when Tanabreddens Ungdom in 1974 recorded joik on record, it was groundbreaking in several ways. Not only in the Sami community, because several of the songs came on Norsktoppen. Lawra Somby knows Tanabredden's Youth well, but for him they also symbolize the beginning of the commercialization of the yoikt traditions. Here, traditional yoiks were taken and beaten into easily digestible 4/4 packaging, a flattening process that culminated when Sverre Kjeldsberg and Mattis Hætta won the Norwegian Melodi Grand Prix final in 1980 with "Samid Ædnan".

- I have no sense of modernizations of traditional yoiks, and that is why we only write brand new yoiks. We do not touch the old yoiks. Joik is a Sami form of music, and comes in the form of many different genres. It is a way of expressing one's feelings, and feelings are so diverse. If you want to translate to ordinary music understanding, yoik ranges from hardcore to ballads. The voice tries to be its own band, with its own rhythm markings, bass and a higher treble-like melody loop.

Greater power than gunpowder

- But do you not agree with Sverre Kjeldsberg's text line, that «joik has greater power than gunpowder».

- Yes, and both Mattis Hætta and Tanabredden's youth have helped to make joiking known to the general public. It's good, and there's both a pride in being Sami and a pioneering work behind their music. At the same time, they have stood in the way of the real and original yoik. We have not made our music as advanced as we might have done, but the important thing is that Adjagas makes new music. We are not a museum.

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