Norway: Video interview with Mari Boine


31 March 2008

Norwegian and Sámi singer Mari Boine speaks about her personal experiences with the religious ban of joik singing.

The interview was recorded when Mari Boine participated in an event in Norway to mark the annual Music Freedom Day in March 2008. 

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Mari Boine grew up in an environment where the Sámi style of singing, joik, was viewed as ‘the devil’s work’. She had her debut as a performing artist in the early 1980’s, and had her international break-through with the debut album ‘Gula Gula’ in 1989.

“She was angry, and had every reason to be. There were many people, many circumstances keeping her down,” it says in the biography on her home page.
Many people see her as a spokesperson for the Sámi people and the Sámi cause, but not Mari herself:

“I can’t represent a whole people. But I can tell my story as a Sámi, and in that way tell part of the Sámi peoples story. In my songs I can depict the pain of oppression, the struggle to regain self-respect, but also the joy of growing up in a culture which has such a close bond with nature. I haven’t always been so politically active. My commitment came with the music,” she is quoted as saying on her home page.

Mari Boine was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize in 2003.

Mari Boine’s MySpace profile:

The video clip contains an excerpt of Mari Boine singing one of her early songs, ‘Gula Gula’ (Hear the voices of the ancestors). It was recorded when she visited Oslo, Norway, on 3 March 2008 to take part in the Music Freedom Day concert at the Nobel Peace Center. The interview was recorded there on the same day. Courtesy to Nobel Peace Center for kind assistance. Interview and editing by Mik Aidt, Freemuse 

Click to listen to the audio track alone Right-click and choose 'Save Target As'

5:21 minutes

Click to read about Music Freedom Day 2008

Click to read more about the Music Freedom Day concert

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About the Sámi people

Sámis are the inhabitants of northern Norway, Finland, and Sweden.

The Sámi people number about 20,000 in Norway, about 8,000 in Sweden, about 3,000 in Finland and less than 2,000 in Russia. Since the 16th century the Sámi people have been subject to colonization and to conversion to Christianity by missionaries while their territory was developed by foreign merchants, royal officials and settlers. 


About the music of the Sámi people

Excerpt of a text in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians by Andreas Lüderwaldt: ‘Sámi [Saami] music’

“The Christian influence became stronger in the 16th century. Sámi beliefs about nature and natural phenomena were subject to particular attack. In most Sámi rituals a noaidi (shaman) participated in collective singing and drumming: these rituals, and eventually all singing, were prohibited and most shamanic drums were destroyed. (…)
This ban and the harsh penalties for any infringement was completely successful in abolishing ‘heathen’ (shamanic) song, but it is difficult to measure its effect on other singing. Juoi’gat almost disappeared from the public scene, but it still exists, even if in schools and at public events it may not be done in ‘the Sámi way’.”

Andreas Lüderwaldt:  
‘Sámi [Saami] music’

The destruction of a minority’s music culture

As a comment to Freemuse’s interview with Sámi singer Marie Boine, ethnomusicologist Ilpo Saastamoinen shares his insight and personal experiences with the oppression of Sámi music culture.

Read his commentary


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‘This music was from the devil’

Transciption of Mari Boine’s video interview

“I started to write songs in 1980 because I realised that I – and many other Sámis – were like brainwashed to hate our own background, our own language. The heritage.
I was 24, I had had my first child, and his father and me, we were both Sámis but we taught him Norwegian without even questioning what we were doing.
And then during the teachers training college, and also during the demonstrations because of the building of the Alta Electric Power Plant, there was a lot in the media, and that made me think, and it gave me information, and I learned more about my people’s history.
And then there was a vulcano inside me of anger and rage that had to get out, because I realised what had been done to my people. So, I started to make songs about this.
I remember I made lyrics to John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’, about how it was for Sámi children to come into the Norwegian school and learn that… not that they were saying that your Sámi heritage was bad, but by not having anything in our language, and not saying anything, this gave us a feeling that this (our culture) was something inferior.”

“One thing was the language, then the other thing was the old religion, and the joik was a part of the old shamanistic religion, I later learned. But in my home the joik was totally banned because my parents chose to take in what the missionaries and priests taught them, and they chose to believe in this: that the joik was from the devil. So they taught their children that: Don’t listen to the joik!
So when I grew up, when I was 20, I was like my parents: Whenever there was joik on the radio, I switched it off. Because this was terrible. This was from the devil!
So, when I started to realise… and wake up from all this, there were just so many angry songs that had to get out…”

“It is hard and it is painful and it is hurting. But when you understand that this comes from a brain washing through hundreds of years, then you can just… You just have to go, and you just have to… Somebody has to go and show what’s… or to get out of this darkness and into where it is light and you can breathe.”

Click to read more about Music Freedom Day 2008

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