A joik (also spelled yoik), luohti, vuolle, leu'dd, or juoiggus is a traditional form of song of the Sami people people of the Nordic countries. Originally, joik referred to only one of several Sami singing styles, but in English the word is often used to refer to all types of traditional Sami singing. As an art form, each joik is meant to reflect or evoke a person, animal, or place.
As the Sami culture has no written language, there are no references to how or where joik originated. According to oral traditions, the fairies and elves of the arctic lands gave yoiks to the Sámi People. Just Quigstad, who recorded the Sami oral tradition, has documented this legend in several works. Music researchers believe joik is one of the longest-living music traditions in Europe.
During the Christianization of the Sami, joiking was condemned as sinful. The Norwegianization assimilation policy and the church and ecclesiastical movement's views on joiking as sin have played important roles in its devaluation. One of the reasons that joiking was controversial may be its association with noaidi (Sámi shamans) and pre-Christian mythology rituals, with joiking said to resemble magic spells. In the 1950s, it was forbidden to use joiking in Sami area schools. In 2014, a parish council discussed "if they should implement a total ban against music other than [church] hymns in the churches in Kautokeino and Maze. The proposal was shot down, but many still wonder why joiking in church is such a controversial issue".
Despite this suppression, joiking was strongly rooted in the culture and its tradition was maintained. Joiking is still practiced and is used as a source of inspiration. Recently, joiks are sung in two different styles: a traditional style, known as the "mumbling" style; and a modern style sung mostly by young people, and used as an element in contemporary Sami music.
Personal and evocative nature
The joik is a unique form of cultural expression for the Sami people in Sápmi. This type of song can be deeply personal or spiritual in nature, often dedicated to a human being, an animal, or a landscape as a personal signature. Improvisation is not unusual. Each joik is meant to reflect a person or place. The Sami verb for presenting a joik (e.g. Northern Sami juoigat) is a transitive verb, which is often interpreted as indicating that a joik is not a song about the person or place, but that the joiker is attempting to evoke or depict that person or place through song – one joiks one's friend, not about one's friend (similarly to how one doesn't paint or depict about a flower, but depicts the flower itself).
Musical and lyrical forms
Traditionally, joiks usually have short lyrics or no lyrics at all. However, there are other forms of joik (in the expanded sense of the word) that have a more epic type of lyrics. Joik is traditionally chanted a cappella, but in modern times may be accompanied by a drum (though not a Sami drum which is used for ceremonial purposes only) or other musical instruments. The tonality of joik is mostly pentatonic, but joikers are at liberty to use any tones they please.
In northern Sami areas, most joiks are personal, that is, tied to a specific person. A joik is often made for a person at the time he or she is born. British actress Joanna Lumley experienced several joiks during her travel program Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights, joining a northern Sami elder. Lumley learned that there appeared not to be a joik of the Northern Lights, and that the Sami do not talk much about them.
There are many different styles within joiking:
- Vuolle is a South Sami joiking with an old-world feel, since its development was halted in the face of Christianity. To avoid being seen as savage or heathen, the South Sami mostly stopped joiking.
- Luohti is the North Sami variant and currently the most-developed joiking style.
- Leu'dd is the East Sami variant.
Imitative sounds and shamanism
Some of the Sami people's traditional Noaidi beliefs and practices shared important features with those of some Siberian cultures. Some of their joiks were sung during shamanistic rites, and this memory is conserved also in a folklore text (a shaman story). As in various cultures of Northern Asia, mimicking sounds from nature can also be present.
- Frode Fjellheim is a widely known joiker, front-man of Transjoik (earlier called Frode Fjellheim Jazz Joik Ensemble). Fjellheim contributed the yoik "Eatnamen Vuelie" ("Song of the Earth") as the opening song to Disney's holiday blockbuster, Frozen.
- Wimme Saari is one of the world's most renowned Sami artists and traditional musicians, whose use of joik is a central factor in his music. He has been collaborating with other artists in recent years, including Swedish trio Hedningarna. Saari mixes some elements of the old-style joiking with new sounds.
- Mari Boine from Norway is one of the most popular artists of her Sami culture. She blends elements of joik with other idioms, including jazz, rock, and world music.
- Nils-Aslak Valkeapää was a well-known modern Sami writer, musician, and artist using joik in his work. He performed at the opening ceremony of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
- Sofia Jannok is a Swedish singer from Gällivare, Sweden. She mainly sings in Sami and does joiking.
- Ánde Somby is a traditional joik artist and a research scholar at the Faculty of Law, University of Tromsø, who joiks persons, animals, and landscapes.
- Jonne Järvelä of the Finnish band Korpiklaani (formerly known as Shaman) is proficient at joiking, though little-known outside the folk metal circuit. Both of Shaman's albums were labeled as "joik metal", drawing heavily from Sami music. After the name-change, the band switched to a more conventional folk-metal sound. He was also featured on the Jaktens Tid album of fellow Finnish folk metal band, Finntroll.
- Adjágas, a Norwegian band, has recently been taking joiking around the world.
- Ulla Pirttijärvi mixes traditional joik with more modern musical trends.
- Angelit is a Finnish Sami folk group which has similarly has evolved their joik musical traditions.
- Antye Greie's record Source Voice contains one track titled "Digital Yoik", inspired by her time spent with Sami people in Northern Finland.
- Jon Henrik Fjällgren is a Swedish singer and jojkare, an interpreter of Joik Sami songs and winner of the Swedish Talang Sverige 2014 competition.
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