Sami voices

In February 1913, the folk music collector Karl Tirén switched on his phonograph for the first time to record Sami joiking. So began one of the largest recording projects of Sami joik in Sweden. One hundred years later, you can now listen to these recordings on the web.

Karl Tirén’s complete recordings

Folk music collector Karl Tirén began his project of documenting the Sami joik at the winter markets in Arvidsjaur and Arjeplog in February 1913. Today, there are close to 300 recordings preserved on wax cylinders, dating from the years 1913-1915. The majority of the wax cylinders are accessible at Svenskt visarkiv (The Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research), Musikverket, whilst around a dozen are held at Institutet för språk och folkminnen (The Institute for Language and Folklore).

Catalogue of Karl Tirén’s recordings

Over 100 joikers participated

Around 100 men and women, aged 9 to 77 years, participate on the phonograph cylinders identified as Tirén’s recordings – although several of the cylinders have unfortunately broken over the years. The phonograph recordings contain mostly joik, but there are also examples of Sami narrative, dramatized dialogues during courtship, the playing of the fadno (a wind instrument made from angelica, and a distant relative to the oboe) and Finnish songs.

Read more about those involved

About the Sami joik

The joik is a particular way of voice usage, which was developed by the Sami people. In the beginning of the 20th century the Sami descendant Kristoffer Sjulsson described joik this way: “[in joik] the singers express, through the melody, their perception of a person’s or object’s properties, and even their own feelings towards what they are singing about, or the memories which animate the mind at the remembrance of a person or object”. Sjulsson’s description, frames the joik’s traditional core: a social form of communication in which the impressions of people, animals and places – and the relationships between these – are portrayed in music and text.

Read more about joik

Listen to the recordings!

More than one hundred years have passed since Karl Tirén brought his phonograph to the winter markets in Arjeplog and Arvidsjaur. Now his recordings are made available on the internet. The organisations behind the publishing project are Svenskt visarkiv/Musikverket in cooperation with Institute for Language and Folklore and Ájtte Museum in Jokkmokk. Selections of the recordings have already been released on the CD Samiska röster, Svea Fonogram (2003).

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The documentation project

Initially Karl Tirén documented the songs in written transcriptions, but from 1913 he also got the opportunity to make sound recordings using contemporary portable audio recording technology: a phonograph with wax cylinders. The Ethnographic department of the Swedish Museum of Natural History (today the Museum of Ethnography ), provided the equipment and funded the recording trips with the phonograph.

Read more about the phonograph

On his wax cylinders Tirén recorded the Sami singers that were willing to perform in front of the phonograph, but he also made recordings of himself when he was singing or playing the joiks on his violin.

Read more about the field trips