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A joik (also spelled yoik), luohti, vuolle, leu'dd, or juoiggus is a traditional form of song of the Sami people of the Nordic countries and Kola Peninsula of Russia. 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.
The sound of joik is comparable to the traditional chanting of some Native American cultures. There are also features shared with the shamanistic cultures of Siberia, which mimic the sounds of nature.
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 joiks 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.
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).
Traditionally, joiks 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 Aurora, and that the Sami do not talk much about them.
There are many different styles within joiking:
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.
Even though joiking is a traditional form of singing, it has found its way into modern-day pop culture through adaptation and commercialization by various artists. One notable example is the 1980 Norwegian entry "Sámiid ædnan" for the Eurovision Song Contest, which features a song predominantly sung in Norwegian and interweaved with joiking in its chorus. Subsequently, this song has been occasionally used as a game chant by Norwegian football fans, as well as British fans from the Accrington Stanley F.C.. Furthermore, an uncredited sample of this song was featured in the 2011 science-fiction horror film The Thing.
Through its inclusion in other popular films, the Sami culture and joiking in particular has managed to achieve national acclaim. Of particular note is Disney’s Frozen, which is heavily inspired by Scandinavian and Sami culture. This is evident in its use of typical elements of the Sami people, including reindeer herding and outfit styles. Furthermore, South Sami musician and joiker Frode Fjellheim composed the opening track of Frozen, titled “Vuelie”, which is an adaptation of his original track “Eatnemen Vuelie (Song of the Earth)”. This growing adaptation of Sami elements, in particular joiking, points towards a gradual revitalization of the culture.
Joiking is also an important element of the Sami Grand Prix, an annual music competition modeled after the Eurovision Song Contest. This competition draws contestants from Norway, Sweden and Finland, with strong representation from minorities belonging to the Sami community. The traditional art form is significant in both the joik and song competition of the Grand Prix. In the joik component, contestants, usually dressed in traditional Sami clothing, perform joiks that are specifically prepared for the competition, without any accompanying instruments. The succeeding song component features participants who often incorporate elements of joiking into their pop entries, which suggests a revival and growing appeal of infusing traditional Sami musical practices with modern-day music.
In addition, the 1970s proved to be a fruitful period for the Sami people and joik music in particular, with what academics have coined the "joik renaissance". Specifically, the emergence of Sami-owned record company, Jårgalæddji, in Norway, that resulted from a collaboration between Sami musicians. As a result, it became easier for Sami artistes and producers to gain funding for their projects, with over 40 albums and cassettes of Sami and joik music released in that period. Sources of funding included not only private investors, but also the Norwegian and Swedish culture boards. This led to an unprecedented commercialization of Sami music, as well as the performance of joiking, which was a crucial focus of the Jårgalæddji. While the bankruptcy of this record company in the mid-1980s led to a slowdown in production of Sami and joik albums, such growth led to a resurgence of interest in traditional Sami culture and music.
Other artists who are famous for their interpretations of joik include Mari Boine, Jon Henrik Fjällgren and the band Korpiklaani, who have combined joiks with various other styles such as jazz, metal and rock. In particular, Fjallgren won the Swedish Talang 2014 competition, a reality talent show, through his moving rendition of traditional joik songs. He subsequently released a debut studio album in 2014, Goeksegh, which features multiple joik tracks such as “Daniel’s Joik”, “The Reindeer Herder’s Joik” and “Nejla’s Joik”.