Interview: Mari Boine

I have learned that in the joik you don't sing ABOUT, you don't describe so much, you just enter the melody and you ARE the melody. You identify yourself with the feeling and find this inside yourself. Also in joik there is the shamanistic beat which is related to the heartbeat. Maybe it reminds us of the time we were in our mother's womb listening to her heartbeat and that's why it can be so relaxing.

Joe Norman from Echoes and Dust had the pleasure of speaking with Norwegian Sami singer Mari Boine ahead of the release of her sixteenth album Amame on By Norse Music and her forthcoming Norwegian tour. They discussed key aspects of Mari’s musical career, her political activism, becoming the melody in joik singing, and her seventeenth, full-band album which is on its way.

E&D: Your career has been long-running, very diverse and very active! Firstly, how would you describe the music you make to an unfamiliar audience? What is your approach to creating art?

Mari: My music is influenced by my ancestral musical heritage, the joik, and the shamanistic beat, and then pop, rock, a touch of jazz, and also other folk music. My music is from the heart and the soul of nature.

E&D: Your latest album Amame, a collaboration with Bugge Wesseltoft, is very beautiful and Bugge’s expressive piano is the perfect compliment to your distinctive, moving vocals. I understand that you recorded the album in your Tromsø home.

Mari: The album is recorded in Bugge´s studio in Oslo. Only two of the vocal tracks are recorded in my Tromsø home.

E&D: Please could you tell us about how this album came together, the songwriting process, and how you came to work with Bugge?

Mari: Bugge and I have known each other since the nineties when we both worked with Jan Garbarek. In 2002, Bugge produced my album Eight Seasons. This time, I wanted to work mainly with the pianist and the producer so I invited him to be a part of my new album.

E&D: The love song ‘Alit Alihastá Aliha’ draws its lyrics from the popular Sámi-Norwegian author Karen Anne Buljo. How did you first come across her work, and what drew you to singing her words? The track begins with the lulling sound of running water. I’m wondering if this a field recording you made yourself?

Mari: I love the lyrics of Karen Anne Buljo and have used many of hers on previous recordings. All recordings of the sounds from nature are done by sound designer Pekka Aikio.

E&D: On this album you release the track ‘Elle’ for the first time on your own album. I’d love to hear more about your work on the film The Kautokeino Rebellion and the history of this track in particular. It strikes me as such an important film. Do you think that this film played a core part in drawing attention to the injustices endured by the Sami people? I certainly seem that your music has.

Mari: Yes, the film The Kautokeino Rebellion and my music have definitely been drawing attention to the Sámi people´s situation, through time and still today. What is frustrating is that even today, young people have to spend their time trying to educate the Norwegian Authorities about Sámi Rights. Like Elen Skum and her fellow rebellers did in 1852.

Yes, the Sámi have more rights today when it comes to language and education in their own language, but when it comes to land rights and respecting that our cultures are so closely linked to nature there is still a long way to go. But this is the challenge indigenous cultures face all over the world.

But in Scandinavia where the leaders are known for watching that Human Rights and Indigenous Rights are respected in other countries, its surprising and disappointing that they don’t respect their own Supreme Court, In 2021 pointed out that Sámi Rights were violated in the Fosen-case.

E&D: Your political activism and music have been intrinsically intertwined from the outset of your career around thirty years ago. Please could you comment on how the reception of music—from your 80s pop/rock influenced debut in 1985 to See The Woman in 2017 which introduced aspects of dub and disco—has developed and changed over the years? Both within your own Sami communities and without. Have people become more receptive to what you are doing? Has joik singing become more accepted?

Mari: Our people are much stronger today than they were back in the eighties. That is a wonderful thing! the joik and our language and culture are much more accepted also. But, as I said under point 5, when it comes to land rights and who has the right to decide how nature and the resources are to be used…there is a long way to go.


E&D: Has your incorporation of popular music with traditional music ever been challenged?

Mari: Since I am not a traditional singer I have not had problems with the “joik-police”! But it has been a bit controversial for the older generation that I have brought up and brought back the old spirituality (linked to shamanism). This spirituality was heavily banned and demonised by the colonisers and the missionaire, so this has been a bit scary for my parents’ generation. The fear for the link between our ancestral heritage and the devil was successfully placed in my people’s heads for generations and takes time to overtone.

E&D: On your debut Jaskatvuođa maŋŋá you recorded John Lennon’s famous song ‘Working Class Hero’ using your own Sami lyrics. A rebellious move! And then on See The Woman you wrote an album entirely in English for the first time. Please could you comment on your motivations for these decisions? What was it about Lennon’s song that spoke to you? How does writing and singing in English affect the way you write your songs and their meanings?

Mari: John Lennon´s songs inspired me a lot. In ‘Working Class Hero’ he writes about how the school system makes working class children to despise themselves and their own culture. My lyrics were a parallel: I wrote about the Sámi children’s experience with the Norwegian school how the school fills you with a feeling of being inferior because it never gives room for your background and language. To sing in English was a bit of a research thing for me. I found it interesting. I wanted to search for the meeting between my soulful singing and the words in a language that I learned. A foreign language of course is not as much linked to your heart and soul as your mother tongue is. But I always loved to experiment and find these meeting points.

E&D: I would love to hear about the core aspects of your singing and music that derive from your Sami heritage, as I’m sure would our readers. For example joik singing. How would you describe joik singing to someone who is familiar with the general sound but is unfamiliar with the technique and its heritage?

Mari: This is very difficult to explain in words, I find. If I knew how to explain this I would spend more time talking about this than doing my music. I have learned that in the joik you don’t sing ABOUT, you don’t describe so much, you just enter the melody and you ARE the melody. You identify yourself with the feeling and find this inside yourself. Also in joik there is the shamanistic beat which is related to the heartbeat. Maybe it reminds us of the time we were in our mother’s womb listening to her heartbeat and that’s why it can be so relaxing. The joik was earlier a part of the shamanistic rituals and has the ability to take us on a journey where new doors may open if we free ourselves from the head-based state of mind. And finally, the joik is often pentatonic, repetitive, and calming.

E&D: Amame will be released on the label By Norse Music, which celebrates Norse music and culture. The label will be familiar to many Echoes and Dust readers from its founders, Einar Selvik and Ivar Bjørnson of Wardruna and Enslaved respectively. It’s clearly a perfect fit! I am sure it will bring your music to a broader audience. How did you come to work with By Norse Music?

Mari: I have been a fan of Wardruna for some time. We have the same agent, Anita Halmøy Wisløff, and AllThingsLive so she was the one who brought us together. I also think it is a perfect fit; we all search for our ancient roots and create contemporary music from what we find.

E&D: You have already achieved so much throughout your career, and are constantly pushing yourself and the boundaries of your music. Do you still have particular things that you would like to achieve with your music and your career? What is next for you?

Mari: I really love to be in this music and to share my music with people. I have been simultaneously working on Amame and an album with my band. So now we are finalising Alva which will be out in April 2023. I am really looking forward to bring my music out to people, live.

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