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Episode 9 Transcript

CROSSING NORTH 9: SEE THE WOMAN

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Mari Boine: [*sings*]

Čáppa Máze, golle Máze, le loi lo

čáze vuollái áigo bidjat, Máze girku, Máze skuvlla, le loi lo le loi lo

Čáppa Máze, golle Máze, čáze vuollái áigo bidjat, Máze girku, Máze skuvlla, le loi lo

[Beautiful Máze, golden Máze, le loi lo

they were going to put it underwater, Máze’s church, Máze’s school, le loi lo le loi lo

Beautiful Máze, golden Máze, they were going to put it underwater, Máze’s church, Máze’s school, le loi lo]

[*song ends*]

Mu namma lea Mari Boine. [My name is Mari Boine.] Sámegillii [In Sámi]— my ancestral name is Greittá-Biret-Risten Mari or on my father’s side Jovsset-Ovllá-Jovsset Mari.

Colin Gioia Connors: Mari Boine is a Sámi musician from Norway, and she has been recording music in her native language, North Sámi, for over three decades. She may be the best known Sámi musician in the world, and her fourteen albums, compilations, and soundtracks have all been commercial and critical successes. She’s won the Spellemannprisen, Norway’s equivalent of a Grammy Award, many times, and in 2017 she was awarded the lifetime achievement award. She became the first Sámi person to receive the Nordic Council’s Music Prize in 2003, and in 2009 she won the Norwegian Arts Council lifetime achievement award and she was knighted by the Norwegian crown. 

The song you just heard is a joik, a traditional form of Sámi music. Joik is often described as a kind of musical portraiture, which in Sámi religious tradition is tied to the spirit of the person, place, or animal being portrayed by the joik. In this particular joik, Mari invokes the Sámi town of Máze and the Alta hyrdo-electric dam that destroyed critical reindeer and salmon habitat and, according to the Norwegian government’s original plan, would have destroyed the town of Máze. Joiking was once a common part of everyday life for Sámi people, but after Christian missionaries discouraged or banned the practice, joiking was driven underground. When Mari grew up, many people, including her own parents, told her that joik was the devil’s music.

Mari’s ancestors suffered a similar colonial history to other Indigenous peoples of land-theft, forced-removals, boarding schools, and cultural assimilation. She grew up under assimilationist schooling policies, but she entered the music scene during a time of rebellion, when many Sámis were uniting as a result of protesting the Alta dam. The protests galvanized the Sami community into political action aimed at reclaiming their rights and preserving their culture. Preserving Sámi culture includes the right to practice traditional art forms like joik, but also the right to develop those traditions in new ways. Mari Boine’s music is inspired by joik, but it is also influenced by genres like rock, jazz, and electronic that blend together to create a vibrant and uniquely Sámi pop sound.

Mari visited the University of Washington this October while on world tour and gave an interview before two Scandinavian Studies classes. Our primary recording equipment malfunctioned midway through the interview, so we are only able to present a small snippet of the interview to you now. A back-up microphone, however, did pick up enough to allow us to transcribe the entire interview, so if you want to read it, and you definitely should, you can find a complete transcript on our website. But first, let’s listen to Mari: 

Mari: I actually never thought I would be an artist like I am now. I had a secret dream like every other young girl to become a pop star, but I am educated as a teacher. I studied at the teacher’s training college and I was planning to become a teacher and that would be my life. I am from the Indigenous Sámi people, we are the Indigenous people of Scandinavia. My people were once nomadic; now maybe 30% of my people live from reindeer herding. As a young woman, I was very ashamed of my own culture because the Scandinavian school—when I went to school, I never heard my native language in my school. I never heard my history. So in a way we were brainwashed to despise our own culture. So I was on my way to leave, I wanted to become Norwegian, I wanted to become European and forget everything about my culture. Then at the teacher’s training college for the first time I heard my people’s history and I understood why I had this shame, why I felt that we were of less value than other people, and inside me there was a revolution. I was a shy young woman, but after I heard my history, there was a woman full of rage who came out and she started to write and sing all these songs in my native language.

Colin: It’s really a great interview. Go read it now. Links to the full transcript and to Mari Boine’s music can be found in the show notes or on our website. Visit scandinavian.washington.edu.

Crossing North is a production of the Scandinavian Studies Department and Baltic Studies Program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Today’s episode was written, edited, and produced by me, Colin Gioia Connors. Special thanks to Visiting Lecturer of Danish Kristian Næsby, and special thanks to PhD candidate John Prusynski at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for transcribing and translating the Sámi in this episode Visit scandinavian.washington.edu to learn more about the podcast and courses offered at the University of Washington. Once again, visit scandinavian.washington.edu. 


FULL INTERVIEW WITH MARI BOINE

October 7, 2019

Colin Connors: Mari Boine is a Sámi musician from Norway. She has been recording music in Sámi for over three decades. She has produced fourteen albums, compilations, and soundtracks. She’s won the spellemansprisen, Norway’s equivalent of a Grammy Award, many times, including the Honorary Award, equivalent to our lifetime achievement award. She became the first Sámi person to receive the Nordic Council’s Music Prize in 2003, and in 2009 she won the lifetime achievement award from the Norwegian Arts Council, and on top of all that she’s also a knight of the Norwegian crown. She’s a cultural ambassador and an icon, and her work demonstrates the necessity of Indigenous languages to sustain and develop Indigenous cultures. Please help me welcome Mari Boine.

[*Audience applauds*]

Would you like to introduce yourself in Sámi?

Mari Boine: Mu namma lea Mari Boine. [My name is Mari Boine.] Sámegillii [In Sámi]— my ancestral name is Greittá-Biret-Risten Mari or on my father’s side Jovsset-Ovllá-Jovsset Mari. I have been singing in my native language for three decades, and I am still going!

Colin: Is this what you imagined success to look like when you first started your musical career?

Mari: I actually never thought I would be an artist like I am now. I had a secret dream like every other young girl to become a pop star, but I am educated as a teacher. I studied at the teacher’s training college and I was planning to become a teacher and that would be my life. I am from the Indigenous Sámi people, we are the Indigenous people of Scandinavia. My people were once nomadic; now maybe 30% of my people live from reindeer herding. As a young woman, I was very ashamed of my own culture because the Scandinavian school—when I went to school, I never heard my native language in my school. I never heard my history. So in a way we were brainwashed to despise our own culture. So I was on my way to leave, I wanted to become Norwegian, I wanted to become European and forget everything about my culture. Then at the teacher’s training college for the first time I heard my people’s history and I understood why I had this shame, why I felt that we were of less value than other people, and inside me there was a revolution. I was a shy young woman, but after I heard my history, there was a woman full of rage who came out and she started to write and sing all these songs in my native language. 

Because it’s like I felt that we were fooled, and later I understood that this happened all over the world. Not only with my people, but everywhere with Indigenous people. So suddenly I was on stage, singing, and people came to me and said, “You are singing about me!” and I understood that my songs were not only my songs—okay, I could tell my story—but at the same time I was telling my people’s story. And that is how I ended up on stage, in recording studios, on the television. Suddenly I was an artist, and this I have been for more than 30 years. So I dreamed about becoming a pop star, but I became a totally different type of artist.

Colin: In the 70s and 80s, other Scandinavian pop musicians like Abba and A-ha chose to sing in English instead of Swedish or Norwegian. Did you ever feel pressured to sing in a language other than Sámi?

Mari: Yeah, people kept telling me—especially my own people: “Why do you sing in your native language? That’s nothing,” because everybody felt that what we had was nothing. And when I discovered I had this talent, I decided I had to go out and show people that our language and our culture has the same value as every other culture, and that is what has happened. I knew I wanted to make myself stronger and heal my wounds that were there after the colonization, because when you are colonized you are full of self-hate. You are full of feelings that you are not good enough, that what you come from is nothing. And I realized, you cannot go on hating yourself, your heritage, everything that you are.

They kept telling me, “Why don't you sing—you have such a beautiful voice—why don’t you sing in English, or at least in Norwegian? Sámi? Why are you singing in that ugly language?” And for me, it is the most beautiful language. When you hear my music you will understand; it is the most beautiful language in the world.

Colin: How would you describe your early music?

Mari: All the lies that I was told—I had to scream! One of my songs is called It Šat Duolmma Mu, and the way I sing it, it means, “You don’t fucking step on me no more!” And of course everybody around me—I was this shy young woman, and suddenly these angry sounds start coming through me—and people around me were shocked, and I was shocked myself, but there was, like, a wise old woman, and she started whispering these songs in my ear. And she was the one who said, “You go on stage,” and I said, “No, no, no, you will find another.” But I had no choice. I just had to follow her. I needed to express what was inside me, and that is what I have been doing for years to get rid of everything that was holding me back and keeping me from being a proud Ingidgenous person. They say that Indigenous cultures are nothing, but when you look into it, there is so much wisdom, and the wisdom is connected to nature and it is needed in the world today more than ever. And that is why I tell all young Indigenous people and others that we have to see what we have and stop believing in the lies. The world needs our wisdom more than ever because the way we are using the planet and the earth is crazy; it has to be stopped. And it is time for Indigenous people to just start staying, “Now you have been playing around enough! Now is enough.” This is what my songs are about today.

Colin: Could you tell us more about you latest album, See The Woman? Why did you record it in English?

Mari: After I had been recording for 30 years in my native language, I wanted to challenge myself. Because when I was young I listened to English pop and rock and I wanted to… Yeah, I wanted to do one record. Also because now we have so many young Sámi artists who are singing in our native language that I thought, okay now I can do something else. I wrote some of the lyrics, but I also went to other Indigenous artists like John Trudell and Joy Harjo in the U.S. and Moana Maniapoto in New Zealand, and I turned their poetry into songs (or...Joy’s song, it was already a song). I also felt that because my first songs—since we were talking about my first songs—they were like ballads, pop rock, some jazz, then I started to study my own music heritage, which is shamanistic—I don’t know if you have heard about shamanism or animism. Many Indigenous cultures are shamanistic—and I wanted to learn because there is a trance part. In the old times, when the people were doing the joik—our traditional singing is called joik—it was part of shamanistic rituals. People were singing and drumming for the shaman to be able to travel to another consciousness, because it was his work to go there to get some advice or get some healing, and this kind of music was banned by the Christians. The drum, [Mari bangs twice on the drum] this is a new version of the old drum. We had the drum and it was part of the rituals, but when the missionaries and Christians came, they said this was from the devil, and they did this all over the world. They said this was banned and they burned the drums. And the shamans, like the drums, some of them were burned, too. And so for a long time this music was lost, and then me and some other musicians decided to research and get back the older shamanistic music. When I do my concerts, there is a lot of trance, trance kind of rhythms, and when I started to tour with this music, in many places people said to me, “You are a shaman!” and I said, “No I’m not a shaman; I am an artist. The shamanistic music comes through me.” And when I look back to why I did the English album, I wanted to show that behind this shamanistic music, there is a woman, and that is why this album is called See The Woman. I want to tell the stories and the experiences that I had as a woman, and to also show that it is possible to move between these worlds. Like, you go into the shamanistic music, and the shamanistic beat, but you can also be a modern, everyday person. That’s how my culture always has been. We are not spiritual only on Sunday. The spirituality is there all the time and you can go in and out. And what I also wanted in the English album was to find out the meeting point, because I have learned English intellectually; it is not my mother tongue. I learned it with my head, like you [students] learn a lot of things here. We are using our heads a lot, and then my heritage is part of my soul and my heart and the rest that is not the head. And on this album I wanted to see: where do I find the meeting point between the intellect and the old shamanistic heritage? So that’s the whole philosophy. I never do anything very, very light. It goes deep.

Colin: I like what you just said about trying to have the best of both worlds, that your path is one that carries your Indigenous traditions forward, but takes freely and works with other musical traditions, because that’s the place for everyone in the world. It reminds me of the teaching: that by knowing where you’ve been, you’ll have a greater understanding on where you’re going.

Mari: Yes, exactly! I guess because we have all heard: the best is to leave all that old [stuff] behind and then we are modern people and just go forward and only care about the modern world. But I think if we want to be strong and also sustainable, then we have to take the best from the old world, the old heritage, and then dare to use the modern, what the modern world has created. For too long it has been the head, the intellect, that has been in control, and that is why the Indigenous cultures have been suffering and put down, because it was the head and the rational thinking and the intellect that was a god. I think the challenge for the future is we have to find a way to make these two worlds communicate and respect each other. That’s how I see it.

Colin: I find it hard to describe your music because you have done so many things with your music in your career, and maybe it is hard to put into one box. You started with rock, you brought in joik in very innovative ways, your latest album returns to some 80s synth pop sounds. You mentioned before that people you met on tour wanted you to be a shaman. Did you find people trying to put you as a musician into one box or another?

Mari: All the time. And because my music is a mixture of so many things it ended up in this box of world music. And then it stays there forever, even if I make a more pop album like See The Woman, they just want to put me back into the world music box. All the time, they’re putting me into boxes and all the time I’m jumping out of boxes. I hate to be put into boxes. And I think we should all be. Jump out of the box! All the time! Don’t just follow the crowd. You have to dare to think your own thoughts, and yeah, for a while, maybe, it is comfortable to be in the box, but I think it is also quite boring.

Colin: I think you were quite daring to so forcefully make a place for joik in pop music. You said that you were trying to recover something that was lost. How did you do that? Did you learn from elders? Were there books you could read? Was it a process of experimentation?

Mari: I was learning from a few elders, but the sad thing is that so many of our elders have decided to become Christian. And that means that they deny it; they say that Sámi music comes from the devil. This is a very sad part of our history. When I started to sing, my parents were all the time telling me, “Stop singing this devilish music; it belongs to the devil. You should never sing it.” The fact that you have to fight with your own parents in order to take care of your heritage—then you see what the colonizers and the missionaries did. They really succeeded, they really knew what they were doing. When I made my angry songs, that’s why I was angry— because to have to fight with your elders… And that’s why it was so wonderful now in Vancouver. I did a talk like this and there were some elders, and when I told my story they just stood up, and they sang for me, and they blessed me, and they gave me so much encouragement and beautiful words, and it really meant so much for me because this is what is lacking in our culture. It is so sad that the elders are only choosing Christianity and they are convinced that our heritage is from the devil. They accept what the missionaries said. They demonized our culture, our singing, our stories, and it is really sad when your own people accept that.

What was the question? 

Colin: I don’t remember anymore. I’m so moved right now…

Mari: Oh yeah! I remember your question [*laughs*].

I actually went to the archives. Because luckily, even if they said the joik was from the devil, they still recorded it, they wrote down the notes, they wrote about it in the books. They were kind of fascinated by it, but they still said it was from the devil. So I found these old songs in archives and I also had friends who were lucky to grow up with parents who were not Christian and were all the time singing the traditional songs. And also by experimenting, because I am not a traditional singer. I am mixing. I am influenced by the traditional singing. And then I am mixing it with everything else I have learned. I have been lucky to work with wonderful musicians also who know both the Indigenous music and the Western music.

Colin: I was going to ask you to describe joik, but would your prefer to sing something for us?

Mari: [*sings*]

Čáppa Máze, golle Máze, le loi lo

čáze vuollái áigo bidjat, Máze girku, Máze skuvlla, le loi lo le loi lo

Čáppa Máze, golle Máze, čáze vuollái áigo bidjat, Máze girku, Máze skuvlla, le loi lo

[Beautiful Máze, golden Máze, le loi lo

they were going to put it underwater, Máze’s church, Máze’s school, le loi lo le loi lo

Beautiful Máze, golden Máze, they were going to put it underwater, Máze’s church, Máze’s school, le loi lo]

[*Audience applauds*]

Colin: That was beautiful; thank you for the song. This is the part of the interview where I ask: what did I forget to ask?

Mari: Oh, a lot! [*laughs*] Would the students like to ask a question?

Student 1: Are traditional songs normally written down or are they memorized and passed on orally?

Mari: It’s not written down, or it was not. When the anthropologists came they wrote it down. But it is just memorized and taught from generation to generation. Sometimes there are words and sometimes just these phrases. The words can change. It’s not totally improvisation but I think the more we learn the Western music the more our traditional songs also turn more to sound like them, more influenced by them. But I heard some recordings where they really start improvising and they get into a trance. And that is one of the things I do sometimes on some of my songs; that is when the interesting stuff starts to happen.

Student 2: How are conditions for Indigenous people in your country today? Is Indigenous culture still refrained from or are people more accepting of it?

Mari: A lot of things have happened in the last 40 years, and a lot of good changes, because when I started singing in the 70s and 80s, so many people were ashamed and tried to hide that they were Sámis. And during these 30 years, people have become more proud and stronger, and those who colonized us—Norwegians, Swedes, Russians, Finns—they started to understand that we are human beings, to say it a little sarcastically. Our people live in four countries and Norway is doing it best when it comes to treating Sámi people right and respecting our rights, but there is still a lot...and like everywhere else in the world, it is a question of who is going to decide how to use the resources. Do you respect the old ways or do you just bring in the mining companies and they just do whatever they want?


SHOW NOTES

Release date: December 1, 2019.

This episode was written, edited, and produced by Colin Gioia Connors. Special thanks to Kristian Næsby and John Prusynski.

Learn more about Mari Boine and her music at:
www.mariboine.no

Watch these performances on Youtube:

"Goaskinviellja" at the Oslo Opera House (2009)

"Elle" on NRK (2011) 

"Jearrat biekkas" on NRK (2013)

"Fillii fillii" on NRK (2015)

"Mitt hjerte alltid vanker" at the royal wedding of Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit (2001)

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