Ulla Pirttijarvi – Traditional Saami music

Ulla Pirttijarvi – Mattarahku Askai (2003)

The music of this disc is not “yoik” in its pure form. These are beautiful ballads, performed in their native language, in the national style. Among the instruments accompanying her singing, of course, is the shaman’s tambourine of the Saami. Ulla Pirttiyarvi  –  is one of the most famous performers in the world “yoik”. Yoik is a special ancient manner of singing the inhabitants of Lapland. In their form, “Yoiks” are somewhat similar to the shamanistic ritual songs of North American Indians.

Lapland. Desert snow-covered edge, located in the north of the Scandinavian Peninsula. There, surrounded by icy winds and severe northern spirits live indigenous inhabitants of Northern Europe – the Saami. This small number of people has rich musical traditions, rooted in the depths of centuries. The art of folk singing “yoik” for the Saami remains one of the most important ways of identifying oneself in the world around us.

The Sámi are an indigenous people of Northern Europe. They live in the land of Sámi (or Sápmi), which spans four realms: Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland. The Sámi population is estimated at 75,000. The Sámi are linked by a shared history, culture, dress, language and family roots.

People, the natural environment, events, beliefs and teachings form the traditional core of the Sámi yoik, tales and stories, since immemorial time to present. The Sámi people have always seen themselves as a part of nature, as equal to it. They consider themselves the daughters and sons of the Sun.

“In ancient times the Finns chased the deer and the Sámi people further and further north, towards the edge of the Ice Age. In this harsh and hostile environment, the people of Lapland found a new dwelling.

‘Safe from people and safe from the gods, they have achieved that most difficult of goals, namely that there is nothing further that they need to wish for’, wrote Roman historian Tacitus. This is the first known description of the Sámi people in history.”

The yoik tradition and its status has changed considerably over the last two centuries. From the 16th century onwards, Christian missionaries tried to root out the shamanist beliefs of the Sámi. Implements of the traditional faith, such as witch drums, were destroyed; the yoik was declared a sin and thus forbidden. In the late 19th century, ‘thanks’ to revivalist preacher Laestadius, the yoik tradition vanished underground. The effects of this period are visible until this day. The yoik still stirs mixed emotions, particularly with the older folk.

In the 1970s, there emerged a demand for the right to existence of Sámi country and the Sámi culture. The Sámi people began to expound their status as a living people in the world today. An exotic culture in tune with the natural environment, the Sámi culture flourished anew, and today there are yoiks everywhere, flowing in rivers and streams. The Sámi culture is a living one, and perhaps a bit mythical for those not familiar with it.

The yoik is the folk music of the Sámi. A yoik can tell of the past and the future, with a range of subjects as wide as the life of the singer. A yoik can be about animals, people, places, feelings, hopes and, in this day and age, even about a ski-doo. The traditional yoik are usually about people — smirking, admiring, pitying, proposing marriage and seducing. One type of yoik is called the luohti.

A yoik is not merely a description; it attempts to capture its subject in its entirety: it’s like a holographic, multi-dimensional living image, a replica, not just a flat photograph or simple visual memory. It is not aboutsomething, it is that something. It does not begin and it does not end. A yoik does not need to have words — its narrative is in its power, it can tell a life story in song. The singer can tell the story through words, melody, rhythm, expressions or gestures.

A yoik is like a miniature portrait. Many yoik enshrine the belief that the Sun is the father of the Sámi people and that the Earth is the Mother of Life. The natural environment is used as a parallel for human existence: animals or natural phenomena are allegories for features and events of human life. A yoik is a thing unto itself for the Sámi. Even if no people existed, the yoik would still exist.
For the singer, the yoik is a way to process and release emotions. It is a release and a cleansing where one can express emotions inexpressible in words. A yoik creates a telepathic link to the story or person it features. Many men have won a wife for themselves by using the yoik.

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There is no way to experience the power of the yoik except to listen to it. Its natural character and the voices of the natural elements do not become apparent until the listener has thrown himself upon the winds.

The yoik has survived through the centuries. It has renewed itself and changed its meaning, but it is still indispensible for the Sámi people. To consider the power of the yoik, we need only consider how eagerly outsiders have tried to destroy it. Whether this has been due to fear or to a lust for power remains a mystery.


01. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Nuortta silkkit (Northern silk)
02. Ulla Pirttijarvi – De juoiggas (Hear the sound of the yoik)
03. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Cálkko-Niillas (They said he was a noaidi)
04. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Gádjá Nillá (He was rich and famous)
05. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Ládjogahpir (The traditional Sámi hat)
06. Ulla Pirttijarvi – New York
07. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Inger-Mari (The wedding yoik for Inger-Mari and Sudhir)
08. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Njuvccat bohtet (The return of the swan)
09. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Riddu badjána (The storm is coming)
10. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Odda áigi (Modern times)
11. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Áigi vássá (Time doesn’t stop)
12. Ulla Pirttijarvi – Máttaráhku askái (In Our Foremothers‘ Arms)

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Greta Hansen
I'm fond of medieval European music, folklore music, as well as various classical works of the early age

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