Read SixDegrees’ interview with Mari Boine, Sámi musician.
How did you start your musical career?
I started to make music as a sort of therapy for myself. In 1980 I began making songs with a small band, and then I recorded for the Sámi radio and television.
Has your music changed much since those early days?
Yes, I was singing more ballads and rock in my first record; mostly non-Sámi music. Then I started to make music with my guitarist Roger Ludvigsen. I used more drums and rhythms and my voice has changed a lot; I have changed a lot. In the beginning I was very shy but I have become prouder through the music. When you come from an oppressed culture you feel inferior and want to see the values in your own culture and other indigenous cultures. I began asking myself questions, such as ‘why don’t I sing in my own language?’ and ‘why am I ashamed of my own culture?’
Have you found answers to those questions?
I realized that nations that derive from nature are brainwashed into believing that they are primitive and worthless. It can be seen all over the world. “ I refused to perform at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics because I didn’t want to be a decoration. ”
Europeans romanticize American Indians but they forget that the Sámi are the indigenous people of the northern countries. What do you think about this?
In Norway people began recognising this connection through a continuous stream of information that I was providing. I truly feel that things are happening and changing in Norway that weren’t even considered ten years ago; not only me, but many Sámi artists think the same.
There is some progress, but do you think it is too late for the younger Sámi generation?
Sadly it is too late for the older generation. However, when I see young children studying the Sámi language in school, like my niece, and I hear how rich she speaks it, I know that they don’t carry the same shame that we did. Returning to an earlier way of living is not possible though there are values that we can still pass on to our children. Maybe they will be bilingual; they will learn both Sámi and Norwegian or Sámi and Finnish. It is important that there are some values that are kept alive.
Where do you think the Sámi culture is heading?
The Sámi people, like people everywhere, are struggling but I see that our self-esteem is getting better and this is vital for our future. The challenge to take care of nature is global. The question is: How can we use resources so they are not misused by greedy interests? The survival of Sámi culture depends on how the rest of the world takes care of the environment; one answer is to increase the awareness of the values and to ensure that it continues to grow.
I remember that you refused to perform at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics because you felt like…
I didn’t want to be a decoration.
Exactly! Do you feel that the Sámi people are something to show off when there is an international happening and are quickly forgotten afterwards?
Those kinds of attitudes will always be there but they result as awareness and curiosity that weren’t there before. It will take a very long time for colonizers to realize their mistakes and to consider the colonized as equals. This is not unique, it happens across the world. It’s a process and processes can be long and complicated. However, I think the direction is right.
Do you believe that the Sámi people are colonized in their own land?
Yes! Today we have the Sámi parliament, so there is discussion, but it is still a long way to win the respect that we deserve.
Would it be possible for Sámi from different countries to have an independent state?
No, that is a dream but, I don’t know... I don’t think it’s realistic. In 100 years it could happen, but also in 100 years there could be no borders at all - that would be even more perfect.
Do you compose your music yourself?
Yes, but lately I have been composing with my guitarist and other musicians.
What are your inspirations when creating music?
Nature, life and reading books. Meeting people and discussions; everything that is alive.
When you are creating music, do you consciously expose yourself to a certain atmosphere?
Definitely, for me it’s essential to be among nature. It doesn’t have to be weeks immersed in the wilderness but it is very important to go north. Nature gives a great deal to me musically but I also read and talk to people, especially Kerttu. Kerttu Vuolab is a Sámi writer and a friend who lives, across the border, in Finland. She significantly inspires me because she is so wise and knows so much; her language is very rich.
There is a power in your music that touches people. One writer described it as hypnotic, but I think it is, perhaps, supernatural.
For some cultures it sounds supernatural. In my culture the shamanistic beats, the drums and trance are something natural.
You are saying that it’s the power of nature. Is it because we are so distanced from it that it is extraordinary to us?
Yes, yes. In the culture, where I grew up, spiritual and everyday life always go hand in hand.
How did you discover these shamanistic beats and rhythms?
I guess it just comes from within me; maybe I have an old soul. I remember as a child being taken to Lestadian meetings. There they would start to sing one song after another before going into a type of trance and starting to, what I call, dance. I loved those moments! I think when I started to work with music I was searching for that feeling and this was before I knew anything about Shamanism. Later I learnt about it by reading and by experimenting with my music. So my intuition led me to understand my heritage.
Are you, by nature, a religious person?
It would probably be better to say spiritual. I’m not a Christian, I had too much of it growing up in a very Christian home. When I was young I didn’t want to have anything to do with religion, but through my music I learnt that there is spirituality. In a way I have my own religion but of course I am influenced by Christianity. I have learnt to accept that. Still the elements in nature, like the sun, wind and earth, they all make sense to me; more sense than a Christian god. So, maybe we could stop fighting if all religions are the same anyway.
How busy are you at the moment?
My last concert was a few days ago and before that I was touring. Now I have ten days time to spend at my wonderful place by the river, exposing myself to philosophy and sauna. In a couple of weeks I will have a concert in the States. After that I will perform in Norway, France and Denmark before heading to China. Occasionally I have concerts three weeks in a row, but that’s very intensive and hard work. I really need to have one month of immersion in nature!
Marie Boine, (a.k.a. Mari Boine Persen)
Born in 1956, Iggadas, northern Norway.
Lived there for 18 years and trained to be a teacher.
She grew up among the Lestadian Christian movement, as well as discrimination against her fellow Sámi.
Lives in Oslo and has a retreat up north where she likes to relax.
Despite refusing to perform at the Lillehammer Olympics’ opening ceremony, she later accepted to sing at the Nobel Prize concert in Oslo.
Jaskatvuoda Manja (After Stillness) 1985
Gula Gula (Hear the Voices of Our Tribal Mothers) 1989
Goaskinveillja (Eagle Brother) 1993: was awarded the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy.
Leahkastin (Unfolding) 1994
Radiant Warmth 1996
Eallin (live) 1996
Bálvvoslatjna (Room of Worship) 1998,
Mari Boine Remixed 2001
Eight Seasons 2002
Info box: Sámi people
The Sámi are indigenous people living in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. Known widely in the past as Lapps, the term “Lapp” is now considered derogatory by many Sámi. The Sámi have their own language, of which there are several variations, and their own culture, way of life and identity. Common history, traditions, livelihoods and customs unite the Sámi living in different countries. In total, they number 75,000 to 100,000. It is estimated that the current number of Sámi in Finland is about 7,500 or 0.15% of the population of Finland.
Finnish legislation has introduced a definition of Sámi, which is primarily based on linguistic criteria. A “Sámi” is a person who identifies himself or herself as a Sámi and who has, or at least one of whose parents or grandparents has, learnt Sámi as a first language.
Mari Boine on norjalainen, maailmankuulu saamelaismuusikko. Hänen shamanistiselta ja mystiseltä kuulostava muusiikkinsa koskettaa ihmisiä kaikkialla. Tässä haastattelussa hän kertoo voimakkaasta kulttuuri-identiteetistään, hengellisyydestään, suhteestaan luontoon, saamelaisten nykytilanteesta ja tietenkin musiikistaan. Boine konsertoi ympäri maailmaa ja toimii samalla saamelaiskulttuurin lähettinä.
By Alexis Kouros firstname.lastname@example.org