Interview: Mari Boine

Ahead of March 10th's Akropolis show, the Sami singer discusses her music's shamanistic traditions, working with Jan Garbarek, and the struggle against Scandinavian oppression

Inhabiting Europe's northern regions, Mari Boine's people -- the Sami -- were, in the recent past, primarily nomadic hunters and gatherers.

With their traditional conical tents, often following the migrations of the reindeer, the Sami may have more in common with the American Indians than they do with the people generally regarded as Scandinavians today.

After performing on 1993's visionary ECM release, Twelve Moons, with Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek, Boine became a star of world music, via what may be Europe's oldest continuous beat.

Last year's Iddjagieđas CD, on Universal, continues her combination of earthy, riveting rhythms with musical inclinations as stunning as the aurora borealis -- qualities that attracted mix-masters like Bill Laswell, Jah Wobble, Biosphere and Chilluminati to wax ethereal on 2001's Mari Boine Remixed album.

Darrell Jónsson: How are Sami lyrics and singing different from those of Norwegian or other Scandinavian cultures?

Mari Boine: Our culture and musical heritage is the "joik" [chant] and it's more shamanistic, and more monotone, and pentatonic.

DJ: When you say "shamanistic" do you mean the purpose of the music is related to the healing arts?

MB: That too, but when I say "shamanistic," I'm talking about beat. In its very repetitive trance form that was once part of our culture, but it was banned by the Christians. And so when I started playing this music again, it was provocative and controversial for some people, and also my lyrics were political, because I wrote about the oppression and the colonialization that my people had gone through. And the situation of the [Sami] language, because it had been oppressed.

DJ: Have you found that your work has triggered an increased awareness of Sami culture and history, in Europe and America?

MB: Yes, both here and there, as well as in Samiland, and also among the non-Sami Scandinavians -- the Swedes, Norwegians and Finns. Because with my work I've been telling a story that people didn't know.

The Scandinavians have always been very busy with human rights outside of Scandinavia, and then I started to tell this story -- that you have something to look at in your own backyard.

So in the beginning, it was maybe shocking for the Scandinavians, and I was a pain in the ass for them. But things have developed in the right direction in the last 20 years.

DJ: Your work seemed to begin at a time before there was any Scandinavian folk-jazz or folk-rock on the international scene.

MB: I think a lot has changed since I started -- I was maybe one of the first.

My music, though, comes from the Sami tradition so it's completely different from Norwegian music. [The Sami people] probably came from the east a long time ago. Maybe we came from Mongolia -- there are some theories that say that.

But I think that together with Jan Garbarek, I was one of the first [Scandinavian] artists that started going in that direction.

DJ: When you first went into the studio with Jan Garbarek, was that your first experience of recording?

MB: No, I had actually made one record in 1986 and another in 1989, and then I met Jan Garbarek.

DJ: Did he change your approach to music?

MB: In a way -- him and also the musicians I was working with at that time. In the beginning my music was mainly pop and ballads, with very political lyrics. But then I began to work more with the drum and rhythms... More "world music" -- a mixture of different styles.

DJ: How is your new CD different from the others?

MB: There is always something that is similar in all my expressions, but I like to experiment. And on the last two records I used more electronics -- not very much, but I like to mix the acoustic and the electronic.

Prague TV Event PreviewMari Boine's MySpace Page

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