Tutkija Marko Jouste metsässä

Music is a microcosm of the Sámi world

Music researcher, musician and composer Marko Jouste has been studying the Sámi music tradition. While doing so, he has discovered songs that were thought to have been lost.

A music-making researcher. That’s how Marko Jouste envisioned his future career when he applied in 1991 to study ethnomusicology at the University of Tampere. His guitar had become his steady companion already as a young boy.

‘I started playing guitar when I was 11. Nowadays that would be considered to be quite late, as many are already quite advanced guitar players by that age,’ says Jouste. He knows this full well, because this music-making researcher started out as a guitar teacher.

Ethnomusicology studies aroused in Jouste an interest in all kinds of music.
'My study years, from the end of the 1980s into the start of the 1990s, coincided with a boom in world music. I wrote my master’s thesis on the music of Turkish and Greek regions, and I was considering taking the topic further.’

Things worked out differently, however, as Jouste then developed an interest in Sámi Music.

‘In the mid-1990s, I began to familiarise myself with the materials of the University of Tampere's folklife archives, and I discovered there a lot of audio material that had never been the subject of any research. The oldest Sámi recordings were recorded in 1905, which means that more than a century has passed since they were made.’

After his doctoral dissertation, Jouste moved to the University of Oulu's Giellagas Institute, as ethnomusicology studies were being phased out in Tampere.

Music is very important for the Sámi culture. In recent decades a very large cultural sector, including festivals and concerts, has grown up around it, says Marko Jouste. Photo: Mikko Törmänen

Whole lives expressed in songs

At the beginning of the 20th century, the materials were recorded on wax cylinders, which only had very limited storage capacity. Jouste reckons that precisely for this reason the proportion of music in the old materials is high.

'In the case of music, it was important to capture the voice. Stories and legends could also be saved by writing them down, as was in fact done. When the materials were transferred in the 1950s to magnetic tapes, which had more storage capacity, the materials also started to include more narration. “

A central characteristic of Sámi music is that it is about real people and their lives. However, the references to different things may in some places be quite mysterious.

'One way to think of it is that the music is like a microcosm of the world in which it came to be. Other material provides support for the stories in the songs, and vice versa. If you root around enough, you can piece together whole life stories,’ says Jouste.

Since the early 1970s, Sámi archive material has been collected also in Oulu. 'It was related to linguistic activities and the collection of language materials, and the recordings totalled several hundred hours in length. We started working to save the reel tapes by digitising them,’ says Jouste.

This led to the creation of the Giellagas Institute’s Sámi Cultural Archives, which is currently where Jouste’s work is primarily focused. The archive’s activities became firmly established in the 2010s, and the work has also been supported by external funders.
Recovering the lost songs

Jouste's doctoral dissertation was related to historical Inari Sámi music, especially the Livde tradition, which was discovered almost by accident as part of a more extensive inventory of archive materials.

‘Inari Sámi Music seemed to be lost for a number of decades both for researchers and to some extent for the Inari Sámi themselves.’ The loss of these songs is also partly connected with a harsh fact that is particularly topical for our current times: there was an outbreak of Spanish flu in the 1920s in the small village of Inari, and this killed a lot of the adult population. Orphaned children were placed in Finnish children's homes.

‘The songs were no longer transferred from the parents to their children. For a couple of generations, the songs were virtually lost.’

Jouste found over a hundred song recordings in Inari Sámi in Finnish audio archives from the beginning of the 20th century. The work involved close cooperation with the Inari Sámi community. ‘Even before starting the doctoral dissertation, we were distributing songs to language immersion preschools, schools and kindergartens. This was something really important.’

The songs have now been presented at concerts, and a new album of them will soon be released by Anna Morottaja, who is an Inari Sámi.

Repatriation, which means returning the materials to their owners, is an important part of the research. ‘It is about making sure that these old materials can also be heard in the north. This research has an important role for the descendants of the Sámi people of that time. Hearing the voice of one's own ancestors can be a revolutionary experience.’

In his later work, Jouste has also studied the Northern Sami ‘luohti’ songs and the ‘leu’dd’, a type of personal song which is at the centre of the Skolt Sámi musical tradition.

Music maker inspires archives

In addition to his research work, Marko Jouste is himself a musician who composes his own music and works as a music performer, adapter and producer. He has also played Sámi music in numerous bands and has worked on a total of six different albums with three different groups. 

The most active of these are ‘Ulla Pirttijärvi & Ulda’ and ‘Suõmmkar’, which also include the Skolt Sámi musicians Anna Lumikivi and Hanna-Maaria Kiprianoff.

'The old material has been used as a source of inspiration in these bands. Suõmmkar, which focuses particularly on playing Skolt Sámi music, was born from the idea of rerecording old songs together with a musical accompaniment,’ Jouste explains.

Jouste believes that Sami music is currently in a good state. 

'Music is very important for the Sámi culture. In recent decades a very large cultural sector, including festivals and concerts, has grown up around it. A couple of dozen albums of Sámi music are released every year, and global stars like Marie Boinen give a further boost to this music boom. “

A Sámi music textbook for Sámi schools is also being developed together with Ulla Pirttijärvi.

Text: Kati Valjus

Main photo: Marko Jouste. Kuvaaja: Mikko Törmänen


Examples of traditional Sámi music (page in Finnish)


Last updated: 16.5.2020