Ánnámáret is an indigenous Sámi composer and yoik vocalist whose music blends electronics, traditional Finnish and Japanese instruments, otherworldly singing – and inspiration from her grandfather.
It’s more than 1,300 km from Ánnámáret’s home in northernmost Finland to Helsinki, where she performs in August at the multi-genre Flow Festival.
While her chant-like yoik vocals draw on ancient traditions of the northern fells, Ánnámáret’s live show, with its edgy electronics and video art, certainly fits into the über-urban festival.
In Helsinki, Ánnámáret will debut new songs from her upcoming fourth album, following Nieguid duovdagat (Dreamscapes), which drew international acclaim last year.
“On our next album, Bálvvosbáiki (The Place of Worship), we go deep into themes of the Sámi nature relationship and its sanctity today. The new songs are spiritual travels into my innermost philosophy,” says Ánnámáret from her home in Nuorgam, Utsjoki, where her husband herds reindeer.
“Our children and I are involved in the work as much as possible. I combine my life up here and doing music with musicians in Helsinki, mostly remotely,” she says.
Yoiking in its free form
While she has played with members of Värttinä and others, her main collaborators now are Ilkka Heinonen, who plays jouhikko (bowed lyre) and Turkka Inkilä of electroacoustic ensemble Tölöläb, who adds electronics and shakuhachi flute.
She first met Heinonen about 20 years ago while studying clarinet at the Tampere Music Academy.
“We did a few gigs together, our first collaborations. I really enjoyed yoiking with Ilkka. I felt that my voice melted together with his jouhikko sound,” she recalls.
“He suggested working with Turkka because he thought his way of making music would enable yoiking in its free form. Turkka’s electronics were the perfect solution to make the yoik and jouhikko breathe together.”
“These musicians are really open to my visions and inspired by that. It really helps to get the feeling that I’m aiming for in the yoiks.”
Visual artist Marja Viitahuhta is also integrally involved in the process, creating videos simultaneously with the music.
“The video is really part of the music, not something that’s created afterwards,” stresses Ánnámáret.
Besides preparing yoiks for the next album, Ánnámáret is busy on many fronts.
The vocal parts that I’m creating now are more influenced by the old ways of yoiking. Of course I tend to jump into expression that might not have anything to do with the Sámi tradition but maybe it’s still there as an undercurrent.
She works as a doctoral researcher at the Sibelius Academy, where she earned a master’s degree in orchestral music in 2008.
This summer, she also appears in Helsinki and Amsterdam as part of a female ensemble of vocalists and dancers. They’re performing Vástadus eana (The answer is land), a live production by Elle Sofe Sara, a choreographer and filmmaker based in Kautokeino, northern Norway.
That’s west of Inari, where Ánnámáret grew up. She first performed live at age 11 in a group with three other youngsters.
“We won a competition and got to travel to southern Finland to yoik at a national youth event in 1994. That was the start of everything!”
Five years later, she moved south to study for nearly a decade. After a stint in Rovaniemi, she moved up to Utsjoki in 2010.
“Utsjoki is totally different from Inari, but through my family I’ve started to feel at home here. The nature here is amazing,” she says. “I feel that it speaks to me.”
The rugged surroundings inspire her vocals – as do the age-old cultural traditions of Sápmi land.
“The vocal parts that I’m creating now are more influenced by the old ways of yoiking. Of course I tend to jump into expression that might not have anything to do with the Sámi tradition but maybe it’s still there as an undercurrent – who knows?”
“Mind-blowing” archive recordings
As a teenager, Ánnámáret mainly listened to Nordic folk music, especially the Karelian band Värttinä.
“We also had big Sámi artists rising at that time like Mari Boine, Wimme, Angelit and Ulla Pirttijärvi. I still listen to folk and ethnic music, mixed in with all kinds of genres.”
Ánnámáret says she developed her own style alone, inspired by live performances and tapes.
“My best teachers were archive recordings from the 1950s and ‘60s, including recordings of my grandfather. Those yoiks were quite mind-blowing. They had a really special dialect that I liked, really old and complex.”
Ánnámáret’s vocals, too, are complex, with microtones and repeated melodic phrases that evolve subtly. Her singing ranges from gentle lullabies to straight-ahead folk and wolfish howls.
I use the same tools in interpreting yoiks as when playing the clarinet. My main tools are imaginative visions, images in my mind.
She sounds powerful and determined on the techno-edged Johtit ain (Still Migrating), a feminist and environmentalist anthem that culminates her latest album (scroll down a bit to listen). Ánnámáret often conveys her messages wordlessly too.
“The yoiks that I’m currently working on don’t have that many lyrics. It’s possible to use very few lexical words in yoiking. The artist expresses a feeling and portrays the object of the yoik in other ways, for example using different styles of yoiking syllables and inner visions,” she explains.
“In that way, yoik is comparable with instrumental music. I use the same tools in interpreting yoiks as when playing the clarinet. My main tools are imaginative visions, images in my mind.”
At the same time, she says, Sámi art is political by nature.
“Even if at the moment I’m not doing political music, Sámi music always somehow speaks for our people. Because of our struggle in the colonising countries, music is a political act even if it’s ‘only’ expressing the world as we Sámi see it,” she says.
“My lyrics and yoiks are about seeing the world from my point of view – as a Sámi, a Finn, a woman, a mother, an individual. The most important thing is honesty.”
- July 2 Ice Hot Nordic Dance, Helsinki (with Elle Sofe Sara)
- July 15-16 Julidans, Amsterdam (with Elle Sofe Sara)
- Aug 14 Flow Festival, Helsinki
- Sep 26 VocalEspoo Festival