For those outside the Sámi cultures of northernmost Norway, Sweden and Finland, the concept of the _joik_ might be difficult to apprehend. It is expressed in music but it’s not a song – or at least in the way we mostly understand the definition. It’s a sound, rather than a word; a description of a fleeting experience – rather like Proust’s _madeleine_. Joiks are traditionally improvised, organic things that grow over time. In extreme circumstances, the joik is not so much about something as the thing itself. Unsurprisingly, the Sámi word _adjágas_ refers to a state between sleep and waking.

This range of meaning helps colour *Adjágas*, the strange and utterly lovely début album from Sara Mariella Gaup and Lawra Somby, two young Sámis from Norway. Produced by Andreas Mjos, the studio master behind the spacious minimalism of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, the nine songs of *Adjágas* are simple, intimate affairs: a bit of guitar and drum from Juhani Silvola, Paal Fagerheim and Timo Silvola respectively, some unobtrusive electronics from Mjos and then the voices joined in compelling harmonies and discreet unisons. *Adjágas* has a similar spacious drama to the music of Iceland’s Sigur Ros, and it’s some distance from the more mainstream sounds of fellow Sámi Mari Boine. The sound journeys here are gentle affairs, a sonic equivalent of watching light change. A joik like ‘Mun Ja Mun’ (‘We’) bobs along, as if on its own journey, and while it can stray into a generic acoustic territory – as on ‘Ozan’, a sanctuary-seeking joik – the album is characterized by a fresh sensibility that demands a setting of constant replay.

mag cover This article is from the March 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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