Finland / Sweden / Norway: The destruction of a minority’s music culture

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Sámi land:
The destruction of a minority’s music culture

As a comment to Freemuse’s interview with Sámi singer Marie Boine, ‘This music was from the devil’, the Finnish ethnomusicologist and musician Ilpo Saastamoinen shares his insight and personal experiences with the oppression and destruction of Sámi music culture.

By Ilpo Saastamoinen

In her interview, Marie Boine tells the truth. But not the whole truth. The question is to which extent the church can be blamed for imposing the music ban in Sámi land. Was it the church alone? If it was to blame, then how come the yoik culture appears to be the strongest nowadays in the same areas where the church was strong? – I mean in the North Sámi area, generally. The yoik singing culture is dying on the west side, especially the south Sámi area in middle Sweden, and it has already almost totally died out on the east side (the Kola Peninsula, and in particular among the Skolt Sámi & the Ter Sámi people on the Russian Kola Peninsula). On the Russian Kola Peninsula, for instance, the orthodox church did nothing to prevent the leu’dd (luvvjt) singing tradition, but nevertheless it has almost disappeared today.

The church has been only one vehicle in the big big big process of lessening the self-identity of the minorities, the aboriginal people. It began with the extermination of the language, putting the school children to dormitories separating them from their parents for months and refusing their rights to speak their own language in the schools and dormitories, refusing the right to dress in the national dresses, and so on.

If you have lost those rights are you sure you would like to yoik anymore? If you’d like to, then that could only happen along with drinking alcohol and in places where outsiders could not hear it.

At first the men lost the willingness to yoik, because they – out of homes, on the market places – had to be more in contact with the “whites”, while the women who stayed more at home made sure that the grandmothers would teach the tradition to the small children.

The church – in the sect form of L

About the author
Ilpo Saastamoinen, 65, is a composer, musician and ethnomusicologist based in Jyväskylä in Finland. Not a Sámi himself, he is one of those few Finnish musicians who began to accompany Sámi singers. In 1973-1977 he performed with Nils-Aslak Valkeapää – the first Sámi musician to receive international acclaim.
Ilpo Saastamoinen has been president of the board of Global Music Centre in Helsinki since 1990.
He has made 600 recordings with musical transscriptions of the Kola Sámi musical tradition, and he has travelled and done research in Estonia (Fenno-Ugric festivals), Russian Kola Peninsula / Lovozero, Udeheys (Far East – Krasnyi Yar / Ussuri / Bikini-river), Khanty-Mansinsk / Surgut area; Russkinskie, Ugut (Finno-Ugric), Mordovia & Udmurtia (Russian Finno-Ugric areas), East Carelia (Aunus-Ladoga-Onega), and several other studies in countries such as Bulgaria, Spain, Poland, France, Cuba, DDR, Turkey, and India.

Music activities
Ilpo Saastamoinen has given workshops and lectures in most universities and high schools in Finland. He has performed Sámi music concerts in Finland, Norway, Russia, and Faroe Islands together with North Sámi artists such as Inga Juuso, Mattis H


See video interview

Mari Boine – March 2008:

‘This music was from the devil’ – about the Sámi music ban


Click to see video interview with Mari Boine

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