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I have some questions about the traditional Sami singing, Joiken, which is practiced in the northern parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway.

I learned that you don't joik about something, but you joik something, i.e. express your feelings and make them appear in front of you and the audience - which sounds a similar to the alpine "Jodeln".

What I want to know for a Joik is

  • are syllables tied to certain meanings like sadness, joy, love, animals?
  • are there any syllables that are prefered over others, such as ley-la, o-ley - or can anything be used that sounds right at the moment of performing?
  • does the concept of a major or minor scale have any meaning like in Western music e.g.minor/sad, major/happy?
  • is a Joik purely improvised i.e. is it possible/impossible to do it again another time in the same way, other than recording it on a CD? In other words: does a performer try to remember that Joik and try to do it the same way the next time?
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1 Answer 1

Thank you for your question - it introduced me to the idea of "Joik", and since I have admired the Sami for years, my world is a little bit richer for now having heard some of it...

As far as answering goes - I have a Finnish friend that was good enough to reply to your questions, and I include her words below - her perspective is fascinating, and a good addition to material that I could find elsewhere on the net.

"I came across the yoik in research I did on Sami traditions and their reindeer husbandry. A yoik, as far as I understand it, is not a song in the way that we would describe or analyze something musically. There are no rules on notes, intonations, minor/major/key/sharp/flat/etc. And, one does not sing a yoik, or create one, but a 'yoik' is an 'identifier'. For instance, in traditional animal husbandry for the Sami, each reindeer is called by his/her yoik that the herder sings. The animals come to their yoik when they hear it. In the same way, a person develops their 'yoik' for a way to articulate who and what they are in the world. These change depending on their circumstances, what they experience... and, importantly, do not contain actual words, just sounds. A Finnish folk group, The Girls of Angeli, have made the 'yoik' popularized, and it is for this reason that people somehow equate it to an actual song. (info on them here: http://www.answers.com/topic/the-new-voice-of-the-north)

My understanding is that while it can feel and sound like a song, it should not be understood as such. That would be like calling what Buddhist singing bowls do exact notes. No, it is more like an aura, an energy of tonal inflection that paints itself into a representation of another physical being. A tonal ghost, if you will.

Oh, and not much has been studied on tonal inflection related to emotion in other cultures that I know of, apart from some interesting work in psychology on emotion words (linguistics). While the western mind might associate a minor note to sadness, this does not mean a non-western mind would do the same. Sami, and their Northern European counterparts, cannot be classified 'Western' in the way that the American public can claim it. Culturally, even the Northern countries are complete different beasts from each other. :) And, 'positive' and 'negative' emotion words are also subjective, based on environment, meaning, cultural context. A 'negative' word in our culture is exactly what is helpful and considerate in another."

Hope this helps!

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thanks for making the effort to collect and relay your friend's answer –  MikeD Mar 21 '12 at 14:26

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