Torgeir Vassvik about V A S S V I K, Sápmi, Joik, and more …
The Sámi are often referred to as reindeer herders, but there are only 8% of the Sámi who work with
reindeer. The other 92% do all things run by a society in Oslo or in other parts of Sápmi. On the coast Sámi
culture has met an extra hard assimilation. In the past the Norwegian authorities had the idea, that there has
to be one people one language one culture. So my parents, my grandparents and I speak only Norwegian, the
politics have been successful. But not that successful ... Today you can have a grandmother who has stopped
to be a Sámi, and has got a daughter who is Norwegian, and this daughter has got a son who identifies
himself as a Sámi ...
Sápmi is the area, where the Sámi live, the indigenous people in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. There
are ten different Sámi languages in Sápmi. The biggest is North Sámi, it is the language used by the Sámi
Parliament. The last speaker of the 10th Sámi language died in 2002. There are some Sámi languages that
only a few people speak today, South Sámi is one of them. The Sámi Parliament now has started to focus on
this and strengthen the educational establishment.
„ I am a Coastal Sámi artist and my soundscapes mirror this landscape“
In my hometown Gamvik in Finnmark you find a stormy and barren landscape, hidden in darkness through
the winter. The polar sunlight, that flows day and night throughout the summer months, never manages to
enhance temperatures that normally would be associated with summer. But some days, when the ridge of
high pressure is over Kola in West Siberia, it can be like + 28 day and night. There is a stone desert with no
trees around, but in Gamvik it is breathtakingly luxuriant in June, July and August. I try to go there as often
as I can. I am a Coastal Sámi artist and my soundscapes mirror this landscape.
„I have always had this desire to express myself“
I grew up in this landscape. It was a free life in an open nature, with people who are like people all over the
world in small groups, interested in small things, big things and people, and that is good. But I had the need
to run out and find my own group, do my things. I have always had this desire to express myself, and it was
natural to do it like I do! Eventually I moved to Oslo and have been living here for 25 years now. I've got
children and, you know, for me it is so important to be with them all the time, the family.
„I am a keeper and a renewer of the coastal music tradition and identity“
I have made music since I was nine. I am a keeper and a renewer of the coastal music tradition and identity. I
play concerts in France, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Japan, England, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Siberia
(Tuva), Belgium, Iceland, Hungary and Norway. Sámi music in general and our music in particular, has a
huge international potential. I have an innovative music project where the unique Sámi Joik is the foundation
of the unfolding experience.
„Joik: You do not sing about a subject, but you are the subject“
Joik is our traditional music and possibly the oldest tradition in unbroken use in Europe. Joik is different
from other types of vocal expression in the way that you do not sing about a subject, but you are the subject.
Joik is often performed with a narrow vocal chord. According to the tradition, Joik is sung without any
instruments, only sometimes together with the Sámi drum. But most of the time it is only the voice, alone in
the nature. The sound of nature has been the instrument. And the quality, colour, and sound facets of the Joik
are a reflection of this nature.
"My music is a fortunate combination of elements from east and west."
I have been listening to the oldest recordings of Joik, and this lies in the bottom of my compositions. In this
old material, I hear equality to music from other circumpolar people. In the music and culture from Siberia I
find similarities concerning the world view, the rhythmics and vocal techniques. This works good together
with Sámi Joik. My music is acoustic in a free flowing and thriving format, with musicians mastering a
broad range of music genres, like Contemporary, Improvisation, Pop, Indie Rock, and everything in between.
My music is a fortunate combination of elements from East and West.
„Keep the music flexible“
I have never used electronic instruments in my records, only acoustic instruments and one prepared electric
guitar. On the "Sápmi" record, I do not add any reverb at all. And live, in my band V A S S V I K, I have
cello, viola, violin, frame drum and Icelandic fiddle. My music is often described as powerful, dreamy and
innovative, delivering a unique experience to the listener. I perform in a quartet format, and have created a
band based on material from the two CDs "Sáivu" and "Sápmi" and newer pieces. Every concert is like
starting up something new. For us it is important to meet new people, to keep the music flexible and of
course to surprise ourselves.
„Something that feels different"
I have some shamanistic experience, and this experience is present in all I am doing. Undoubtedly, Joik
comes from ritual practice. Animism is the core in Sámi culture. The Sámi music today is going in many
directions, you have popjoik, heavyjoik, afrojoik, softjoik, and so on. But I like to do something that sounds
and feels different, something that is natural in the development of an indigenous culture like that of the
Sámi. So for me it has been natural to look to the East. I came to this expression, and together with
innovative musicians I take it further.
All the best from Torgeir Vassvik