Adjagas - bringing joik to the greater stage

From the vast steppes of Lapland to the huge stages of Glastonbury, Adjagas has undoubtedly come a long way since its two young and vital vocalists started performing together.

Adjagas (foto: Trust Me Records)

The traditional Sámi chanting tradition – joik – is at the centre of this vibrant duo’s form of expression. Adjagas was formed in 2004 and is fronted by the two joikers Sara Marielle Gaup (21) and Lawra Somby (24). In addition to the distinct voices of Gaup and Somby, the live version of the band also features percussion and two guitar players. The outfit’s name is derived from the Sámi expression that describes the mental state experienced during transition from asleep to awake.

From Pulpit Rock to Glastonbury
Despite being a fresh and upcoming act, Adjagas has played a number of major domestic as well as international festivals and events. Somby contributed his unique vocal style to the grand opening of Alexandria’s new library building in 2002 – an event broadcast to millions of viewers worldwide. Earlier this year, Adjagas played a blistering set at the 46664 Arctic HIV/AIDS benefit concert held in Tromsø, Norway. The event, which was opened by Nelson Mandela, was also broadcast to a large international audience. Adjagas were scheduled to open Glastonbury at the Pyramid Stage on 24 June alongside such heavyweights as the White Stripes, Elvis Costello, The Killers and Doves, but unfortunately Adjagas’ Glasto slot was cancelled due to torrential rains. However, the achievement of being asked remains; the Glasto opening slot came about after a spectacular gig at this year’s by:Larm music industry convention/showcase festival in Stavanger, Norway. Adjagas kicked off a lofty concert at the top of the Prekestolen (Pulpit Rock) mountain plateau some 600 meters above the Lyse Fjord and in front of a crowd of top-shelf international music industry reps. One of the spectators was Martin Elbourne, Glastonbury’s head of booking, who was immediately blown away by Adjagas’ intense performance and promptly invited the band to perform at the renown festival.

On the domestic circuit, Adjagas has played such central folk/ethnic/crossover festivals as the Førde International Folk Music Festival and Riddu Riddu in northern Norway. Adjagas also reached the finals of the prestigious nationwide INTRO-folk competition staged by the Norwegian Concert Institute – Rikskonsertene.

This autumn will see Adjagas hard at work on its debut album. Together with contributing musicians Juhani Silvola, Paal Fagerheim and Timo Silvola, Somby and Gaup will head for the renowned Stuggudal Studio to work with respected recording technician Lars Lien while Andreas Mjøs (member of internationally renowned electronica/jazz/post-rock outfit Jaga Jazzist) will oversee the entire process as producer.

The autodidact
MIC hooks up with Adjagas front-man Lawra Somby while the he and his crew busy themselves rehearsing in the Sámi capital of Kautokeino, prepping for the outfit’s very first real recording session.

Says Lawra on the history of Adjagas – a history that still is a relatively short one: “We only started out as a band in 2004 and did our first proper gig at (Norwegian music industry festival) by:Larm in Stavanger where we also played the infamous gig at the top of the Prekestolen plateau. I made my solo debut as a joiker in 1997 and since then I’ve performed lots of solo gigs and collaborated with acts such as Turdus Musicus (Tromsø’s Mr. Bunglesque outfit) and Anneli Drecker (a-ha/Röyksopp co-vocalist/Bel Canto front-woman).”

Given young Lawra’s strong joiking skills, one is led to believe that he grew up practising the vocal style day and night. However, it turns out that he is not a child of the vast Lapland steppes and that (skater) Tony Hawk was probably a bigger influence than the top performers on the Sámi folk music circuit. Lawra says, “I’m kind of an anomaly in the joik community since I’m a city kid. I grew up in Oslo and Tromsø and was much more interested in skateboarding and urban stuff than I was in traditional Sámi folk music. The turning point came in 1997 when I went with my dad to the annual Easter Festival in Kautokeino where he was a host. After a fantastic set with a traditional joiker, my dad took to the stage and declared, ‘With such beautiful joiks it’s a mystery why the young generation won’t carry on the tradition.’ I thought ‘fuck it – I’m going to show him!’ So I started to teach myself how to joik from cassette tapes. Basically, I’m completely self-taught.”

The joik is the focus
One unique aspect of joiking is that the songs and performer are linked strongly to each other – a joik’s character, mood, tempo and rhythm will frequently change in accordance with the performer’s state of mind. This aspect has affected Adjagas’ development as an ensemble. “It is challenging because the songs keep changing and evolving continuously as we play them,” says Lawra. “We’ve been touring Norway this summer and the tunes have changed a lot since we started out. But now we’ve got to settle on some form of expression – we’re about to start recording the tracks soon! The repertoire, which is all original – no renditions of old tunes here – will be full of contrast and quite varied. Some of the tunes will be aggressive and hard-hitting like a rock track while others will be very quiet, stripped-down and calm. I think the record’s going to turn out quite sparse – it won’t be a completely dry mix, but it’ll probably appear to be quite naked and fragile.”

For Lawra it is important that the joik is the focal point of the band’s appearance, saying, “We write the accompaniment to the joiks – not the other way round. It is important that the joik is at the centre, not just a kind of garnish.”

Adjagas has not chosen a typical world/traditional/crossover music producer. “We have chosen Andreas Mjøs based partly on what he’s done as a producer with Susanna & the Magical Orchestra and partly on what he’s done with Jaga Jazzist,” says Lawra. “We want to preserve the vocals, which can be very fragile at times. The vocal expression can quickly get lost if you add too many elements to the mix; we want to maintain the original energy and not create some kind of ethno crossover stuff. We’ve got to keep it real.”

The new band members also contribute with a variety of influences. Lawra explains, saying, “The band is a very complex and diverse bunch with eclectic musical preferences. Our drummer is in a hard-core band, one guitarist is a jazz musician while the other guitarist is a very open-minded music teacher who’s into all kinds of music. Over the last year we’ve had a couple of changes to the line-up and this has affected the tunes’ character and changed our musical path quite a lot.”

Powerful joiks
This summer’s domestic tour has firmly established Adjagas as one of the most noted and integral of the newest voices to emerge on the dynamic Norwegian music scene. “The response to our domestic tour has been fantastic,” says Lawra. “It’s been overwhelming, really. I think that we represent something real and powerful. Joik is a strong form of expression that can communicate directly into people’s emotions and inner depths. We can immediately transport the listener to a different state of mind with joiks that can be almost hypnotic. It’s powerful stuff.”

Lawra’s composition methods are not your average songwriter-strums-guitar-comes-up-with-catchy-tune procedure. “I feel that it is not me that’s composing the joiks, it is the joiks that present themselves to me,” Lawra says. “It is a matter of channelling the powers of the joik through me. Lately, the themes of my joiks have been philosophical reflections on changes in life. There have been a lot of changes to my life lately and the joiks that have come to me reflect that. The joiks change continuously – they reflect new aspects of life. The joiks that I composed a few months ago are dramatically different.”

Says Lawra on the name he has chosen for his band: “Adjagas describes the state of mind when you’re between awake and sleep. During that transitional phase, I often gain contact with other elements of myself and find inspiration for new joiks. Then, I’ve got to get up and develop the idea – if not, it’s lost. The lyrics of my joiks don’t deal much with everyday issues – it’s more far-reaching themes; it’s usually quite mysterious and weird thoughts that go through my mind.”

What is his view on the upcoming studio sessions, then – will the Adjagas sound survive the transition from stage to Pro Tools? “With regards to arrangements and production there’s a lot we can do – there are so many options that it’s easy to get lost,” says Lawra. “We’re often working on unison vocal lines, something that is not very common in traditional joik. It can be very challenging since a joik is always evolving. Traditional joik is also more of an ego thing – joikers will often flash their vocal technique and rhythmic proficiency to prove that they’re in total control. We have to sacrifice some of that technical flash to adapt it to a band setting. Certain joiks will also change pitch according to the mental state we’re in; on those tunes we use just percussion – it would be almost impossible to accompany them with harmony instruments. I think that the key to tying it all together is to keep it simple and focus on the joiks and the messages that we want to bring across.”

Adjagas’ plans for the near future call for long rehearsals and intensive studio sessions. “We’re going to rehearse intensely to define and refine our sound. It has changed during the tour and it will change during our studio sessions – who knows what we’ll sound like in the end,” concludes a busy Lawra before he has to hurry back to Adjagas’ rehearsal session.

Adjagas’ debut album was released domestically in November 2005 on Trust Me Records. An international launch of the record will happen in late 2006 through Germany's K7! label.

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