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  • Emma Keechle

What is Sami Yoik Singing?

If you want to understand what Yoik singing really is, you need to start by understanding the Sámi people. The Sámi are the Indigenous people of the Sápmi cultural region across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. They have nine closely related languages. Sámi Yoik singing is one of the oldest and longest standing cultural traditions of the Sámi people and of Europe in general. 


A Yoik (Yoik is English, Joik is Norwegian/Finnish/Swedish) is a traditional Sámi song used to express relationships about people, nature, animals and emotions. It consists of a melody, rhythm, chanting, animal mimicked sounds, lyrics/words, sometimes facial expressions, and gestures as well. Yoik can be performed as a form of entertainment but can also be part of spiritual rituals. A Noaidi (Sámi shaman) would perform Yoik while beating on a Sámi drum to contact the spiritual world. 


Every Sámi in the community is given their own Yoik at birth or adolescence, kind of like a signature. Their Yoik follows them through their lifetime. A person's Yoik is considered so closely related to them that Sámi say “Joiking someone” vs “Joiking about someone”. It's considered poor behavior to sing your own Yoik, as a Yoik could describe your personality and appearance. It would essentially be bragging about yourself. But other Sámi can sing your Yoik in front of you. 


Yoiking and drumming were suppressed in the 17th century. Yoik singing was considered by some as a form of witchcraft, and became a capital offense. Many Sápmi were executed for it. It continued on in secret but with grave penalties. It wasn't until the late 1960’s (360 years!) that Yoiking started to be revived as an art form. Today Yoiking is taking a modern turn, with one famous song being used in Disney’s Frozen. The introduction song right before “Frozen Heart” is a Yoik called “Eatnemen Vuelie (Song of the Earth)”.


Want to hear more? Here is a playlist of Yoik songs for you to listen to.


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