Welcome to Riddu Riđđu (translates to Small Storm On The Coast) – the international indigenous music, arts, and culture festival in Kafjord, Sapmi. Though the festival is hosted by the Sāmi community, it is in this place that my scholarship was immersed in traditions gathered from around the globe – to offer solace and an opportunity to decolonize our Western ways of perception.
As I stand before the grand valley, I am to behold the glory of this summer: birds are at play, mountains stand righteous, a river slithers down and out into a distant lake. Some still snore while others brush their teeth – joy and community permeating the human collective.
The morning that “the storm” was to ensue, I find myself joining some of my colleagues in a familial stroll down the mountain with one goal: coffee and food. The scenery is nearly too much to bear, reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest where I currently study but altogether it’s own. We are home and not home; strangers but not strangers.
After breakfast, I wander about a festival ground beaming with a prismatic luminescence – Gakti clothe the Sami, their contrasting colors dazzling. The clouds break and the Sapmi sun warms my being as I mosey past one lavvu (portable Sami dwelling) after another where Joik courses, tea ceremonies, documentary showings, and metal smithing may be ensuing at any given time.
A theatrical performance from Greenland draws my attention, the female performer taunting the audience with her grotesque makeup, wild barking, and sexual deviance on display. What could this all mean? I sit beside an old man as we admire the woman as she moves to a drum played by her troupe mate. After the performance, I spoke with her for a half an hour over tea brewed with fresh flowers. She explains how her people would use these performances to instill courage and understanding of the ways of things to their children. These children would soon be expected to drive a spear into the heart of a polar bear to support their community…a situation where fear will not serve them.
Later on, I find myself in a lavvu (kind of a north American teepee) with a professor from UiT who held the largest registry of yoiks in the world. The yoik is uniquely Sami where the performer does not own the song, but rather is more a voice through which the yoik itself is able to enter the sensory realm. One does not make a yoik about their friend, one yoiks their friend. One does not composed a yoik that is for the wolf – one yoiks the wolf. Being a musician myself, I was eager to better understand the structures and differences between the various Sami communities whose geographic spaces influence the ways in which they yoik. After all, the sound of place is the title of this course and the yoik is my primary subject of study.
After a power nap and reindeer kabab, the opening ceremony began. After welcoming all in English, the Minister of culture, Trine Skei Grande, continued her speech in Norwegian. It is the first time the minister has been to the festival and it is an opportunity for a representative of the nation state of Notway to gain insight into various parts of the festival program.
And then…the music began. The first performance was comprised of a very traditional series of yoik. “Zoya Nosova, born on Motka Bay, now living in Verkhnetulomskiy is the last native speaker of the language and all its dialects. It was an honor for us all”.
Next was my personal favorite of the evening – Suõmmkar. “Suõmmkar is a new skolt sámi band with Leu’dd perfomers Anna Lumisalmi and Hanna-Maaria Kiprianoff in front. Lumisalmi and Kiprianoff represent the new generation of leu’dd performers. The band aims to both record and publish leu’dd, and has started recording their first album”. The instrumentation in combination with yoik elevated me; shepharding me into a transcendental state. Babies were smiling, old folk danced, life was good.
The next performance was by Resirkulert, a local band of young Sami men that had all the young girls running to the front of stage. This is one future of yoik, where contemporary pop and alternative-rock style provides the foundation for uplifting, boyish crooning. In their final song, the singer told the audience that this song will be a yoik of his grandfather whom he owes his Sami education and identity most strongly to. And might I say, his vocal performance was best when he was evoking his indigenous truths.
Between performances we would visit the beer garden, discussing the music and politics over Sami Pale Ale by Mark Microbrewery. My colleagues and I were growing closer with one another and with new friends from all around this world.
The next performer may be one that my North American readers are familiar with. DJ Shud, formerly a member of A Tribe Called Red, is from Six Nations of the Grand River in Canada who were ´Northern Indigenous peoples of the year ´ in 2015. He combines EDM with native vocalization and percussion to synthesis something all it’s own. After ten minutes of the crowd pleasantly watching in place, his ‘hype man’ in neo-traditional headdress and garb lept off the stage and into the center of the crowd. This is when the PowWow began. Everyone was moving to the beat, creating a circle within which concert goers would take their turn at dancing. A “conga line” line ensued where happy sweaty people held hands and revolved around a common center. DJ Shud truly brought the people at Riddu Riddu together, opening the hearts and minds of all.
The final performance of day 1 was by Biru Baby. Biru Baby describes themselves as “a revolutionary band with bizarre style and a unique sound image from the ice-cold Finnmark tundra”. “When you go to a Biru Baby concert”, says the MC, “you never know what you’re going to get…but you know it’s going to be good”. High energy, choreographed dance, pitch corrected vocalization, sexualized, punk rock, pompous, and “new” are words that come to mind. They command the stage while masked female dancers wave the Sāmi flag.
The following two days were filled with a growing population of festival goers as well as the eclectic representation of culture through music and art from nearly all parts of the world. Baker Boy – an aboriginal rapper, Tyva Kyza – the only Tuvan throat singing ensemble comprised of women (a defiance of gender role expectations meeting culturally traditional music), and Marie Boine – the Sāmi “Beyonce” (or is Beyonce the American “Marie Boine”..?).
I saw a Sāmi hip-hop dancer put on a special performance with two Māori dancers from Aotearoa (New Zealand). I heard the “Young Artist of the Year”, Ánná Káisá Partapuoli perform Sāmi slam-poetry. I made friends with two really nice guys from Spain and they shared their sandwiches with me. I even ate whale meat which, as an environmentalist, never thought I would ever do (Minke whales are not endangered, but rather abundant in the waters in which they are fished, so in terms of conservation it isn’t an ecological crime). It tasted like fish steak.
Each night I’d make a quick stop at the party camp and Club Lavvu to meet locals, practice the language, and have an all-around great time. And every night, I made the lone journey up the hill and into the little tent where ear plugs and eye mask cleansed the sensory pallet. What we have all done is taken a leap into what felt like an alternate universe where sound decolonized our perceptions of what arts, culture, and life itself are. I believe that holding these types of international indigenous festivals in the United States would encourage everyone to broaden their minds and experience beautiful modes of living.