Sami joik

The joik is a particular way of singing, which was developed by the Sami. Besides the voice technique, the main difference between joik and other types of song in the Nordic region is the relation between the song as an aesthetical expression and its content.

Joiking a person or animal

Traditional joiks relate to what has been described as a reference object; this may be a person, an animal or a place. A performer does not joik about a particular person or animal, but rather joiks that person or animal, which is to say, giving them a musical formation in performance, influenced by the joiker’s perception and appreciation of their qualities.

These joik melodies are used by social groups, so that the joiks become a form of musical name for the reference object, which many Sami can recognise and perform at different times. For example, during Karl Tirén’s recording sessions it sometimes occurred that when a new person came into the room, one of the present joikers would begin to perform the ‘personal joik’ of that individual, as a means of welcome and of confirming his or her relationship with them.

Musical characteristics

It is often possible to identify joik through its approach to the voice and timbre – often sung with what has been described as a “pressed” or “pinched” voice, and a rich use of ornaments and glissandi between notes. When joik melodies are represented in musical notation, it is not unusual to see asymmetrical time signatures (for example, 5/8, 7/8 or 11/8), with the melodies often being cyclical, so that the performance may continue for as long as the joiker desires, or the situation allows.

The Swedish verb jojka is derived from the Sami juiogat. In Swedish, the act of joiking has increasingly come to be known as joik. Quite simply, you joik a joik. The Sámi terminology is rather different. In the Northern Sami language, one joiks a luohti (plural luoðit), in Lulesami, a vuolle (plural vuole) and in Southern Sami, a vuelie (plural vuelieh). For the performance of songs and hymns the terms lávla, singing, and lávlut, to sing, are used.

Further reading

  • Aksdal, Bjørn & Nyhus, Sven (ed.) (1993). Fanitullen: innføring i norsk og samisk folkemusikk Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. (Ola Graff’s chapter “samisk musikk”)
  • Graff, Ola (2004). Om kjæresten min vil jeg joike.Unders økelser om en utdødd sjøsamisk joiketradisjon. Karasjok: Davvi Girji
  • Hilder, Thomas 2015. Sámi musical performance and the politics of indigenity in Northern Europé. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield
  • Kjellström, Rolf, Ternhag, Gunnar & Rydving, Håkan (1988). Om joik. Hedemora: Gidlund
  • Lundberg, Dan & Ternhag, Gunnar (2005). Folkmusik i Sverige. 2nd revised edition. Hedemora: Gidlund. (chapter about joik)
  • Lundberg, Dan & Ternhag, Gunnar (ed.) (2011). Yoik: Aspects of performing, collecting, interpreting. Stockholm: Swedish visarkiv in collaboration with Ájtte.
  • Ramnarine, Tina 2015: “Frozen. Through Nordic Frames.” (Svenskt visarkiv/Musikverket)

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