Modernising Joik - A radiodocumentary about the ethics of sampling

How can we modernise the sami chanting tradition without making the majority angry? I accompanied Volda student Heikki Ketola during the process of sampling joik and documented it in a radio documentary.
Publisert: 30. januar 2023

Listen to the trailer of Modernising Joik:

"Luohti is so much more than just an unique sound. One cannot cut the joik in parts like that." Joik, or Luohti, as it is called in northern sami, is the traditional sami singing tradition which has overcome thousands of years. Joik is non-repeatable and never tells of anything or anyone, but always embodies someone or something.

Over the past few decades, joik has experienced a surge in interest and attention and got more and more popular. At the same time music technology has evolved and sampling has become a new way of approaching existing music.

Turning joik into a public available, free instrument

Heikki Ketola studies the Master in Media Practices at Volda University College and has a background in sound design. He has been sampling sounds for the crowdsourcing non-profit project Pianobook from Spitfire and got first in contact with the sami music tradition when he moved to Norway to study in Volda.

"I was watching the movie Frozen and there was some kind of joik in the beginning. This made me realise that this is a great sound and I was sure that no one before had tried to make a virtual instrument of it. So I thought I need to do this!"

He took contact with the norwegian-sami artist Rolf Amundsen from the band Rolffa to record notes of his joik for the project. What he did not expect were the ethical questions that popped up over time and which made the process more difficult and significantly lengthened.

"Sampling is basically just recording a sound and turning it into a virtual instrument with special software." The possibility and issue here is that you can use the instrument, and so to say also the sounds from someone, in a new context.

Using the thick L

To make all notes of joik available, Heikki needed to record only certain notes from Rolf and uploaded them into a software which places them on a virtual keyboard. They started by recording the thick L sound which is characteristic for the sami dialect Rolf speaks.

Otherwise they used the pentaton scale a a good starting point to make a well functioning virtual instrument. Based on them Heikki could digitally get up or down one scale.

Heikki Ketola also composed a track in which he used some of the joiking sounds after sampling them.

Ethical dilemma

While working on the project Heikki was confronted with mostly negative feedback from sami. Who is allowed to joik and use joik in a new context and when does it start to be cultural appropriation? Many Sami did not want to comment or involve themselves in any way because of how personal a joik is.

Heikki could understand their concerns, but tried to continue making a neutral instrument available for anyone with the aim to save this unique sound.

During the pocast I talked to swedish-sami singer Maxida Märak, the professor and sami Ánde Somby and composer Frode Fjellheim about their work, Heikkis project and their relation to joik.

Maxida Märak is using parts of joik in her music. She mixes them with hip-hop and would therefore never judge others using joik if they want. She rather supports the use of joik to make it more popular known.

Ánde Somby does not see any boundaries in joiking so far, but is aware of how fragile the singing tradition is.

"Joiking is a weak and unprotected tradition. Every thief can grab a part of it, make a soup of it and let it reapear as new joik. But on the other hand it is good to play with it.", says Somby about the chanting tradition.

Frode Fjellheim who made the Frozen joik song has been sampling joik for years. He sees the change of joik from the traditional way as a part of the sami society into the music stage.

"When I started to use elements from the south sami traditions very few said it was not right to do. They were rather happy to revive the joik".

Unfinished virtual instrument

The project could not be completed. However, Heikki has improved his technical skills and has learned about the sami singing tradition joik at the same time as he dealed with ethical questions.

Joik did not seem to be ready to go from an individual song to electronic sample.

The radio documentary was funded by Fritt Ord and can be fully listened on Soundcloud, RadiOrakel and Spotify.

Publisert: 30. januar 2023
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