Bringing back the strange sound of the Sami

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THE Arctic Philharmonic, a Norwegian professional symphony orchestra, is known for playing pretty standard orchestral fare (upcoming performances include works by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn). Last month it tried something new. The Orchestral Joik Project, performed in the northern city of Tromsø, featured tonalities that sounded vaguely Middle Eastern, yet the music was completely Scandinavian. In recent years joik, traditional Sami music, has made a remarkable journey from near-oblivion to mainstream repertoire.

The Sami—an indigenous people not related to the Scandinavian tribes that later settled in the northernmost parts of what is now Sweden, Norway and Finland—date back to prehistoric times. They speak a language completely different to other Scandinavian languages. Their music, too, has a decidedly enigmatic reputation. It is completely vocal. It doesn’t use instruments other than drums; its scales differ from the scales used in Western music. To non-Sami, joik sounded…Continue reading

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