Photo: Georg Buljo

Womex 2012: Niko Valkeapää

Niko Valkeapää, who has solidified his position as one of contemporary Sámi music’s key voices with this autumn’s applauded album ‘ÄÄ’ proved his worth at his October showcase at World Music Expo Womex in mid-October

Based in Northern Norway’s Kautokeino region, Finnish/Norwegian/Saami singer/songwriter and vocalist Niko Valkeapää has achieved what many artists strive for years to obtain: a personal form of expression and a niche to himself.

Although Valkeapää is solidly anchored in the Sami tradition, his musical outings owe more to contemporary americana and electronica-infused pop than traditional Sami chanting does. His string of five albums all manifest Valkeapää as one of Sami music’s foremost performers and one of the most integral voices to emerge on this scene in recent years. With well-developed compositional skills, his feet are equally planted in an Anglo/American singer/songwriter tradition as they are in a traditional Sami lyrical form of expression. Valkeapää’s latest album ‘ÄÄ’ draws a portrait of a young performer and composer that has found his linguistic as well as musical platform.

- The songs on my albums deal with themes such as urbanity, cultural diversity and introspective exploration. Inter-human relations, social reactions and themes that circle around these factors are also central topics in my lyrics, says the songwriter.


In close partnership with fellow co-producer, Oslo-based Georg Buljo, Niko Valkeapää has created a yet another sterling album with strong contributions from a varied and competent crew of musicians that are known for collaboration with such diverse artists as Mari Boine, Jon Balke and Amundsen. The overall form of expression is subdued and understated, but the deep, captivating and warm vocal contributions provide enough force to propel the minimalist playing and sparse arrangements into a powerful mix. Says Valkeapää on the creation of his latest album: - It’s been a long process that has seen me and Buljo working closely together to create a personal statement.

‘ÄÄ’ sees Niko Valkeapää presenting a style he has dubbed ‘Arctic Art Rock’ which traces its roots to the 80s with a nod to bands and artists such as Talk Talk, Japan, David Bowie and The Cure. Where Valkeapää on his recent album ‘Gusto’ dug deep into acoustic Saami Americana, ‘ÄÄ’ features him and his longtime musical partners dragging the old synthesizers up from the basement and turning up both the volume and the tempos several notches.

The otherwise melancholic Saami singer and poet now introduces strong choruses and adds tasteful doses of humor. Still, his trademark darkness and artistic depth remains as the basis for his musical work. Niko´s lyrics this time are influenced by human search, loneliness and despair. The musical surface might look calm and happy enough but underneath mirrors a depth and a dark human soul. The pop songs have a dimension that does not reveal itself immediately, but awards the keen listener that digs deep.

Vintage synth bonanza

Says Valkeapää on his approach to creating his latest album: - We had some songs that didn´t quite fit into the scene of singer/songwriters playing guitar and buozuoki around the campfire. That´s why we picked up the old synths from the 80´s. Suddenly we had a whole new album.

As a live performer, Niko Valkeapää has contributed to a number of central events – starting out with the EXPO 2000 fair and winning the coveted Sami Song Contest award for two consecutive years. 2003 saw Valkeapää being bestowed with a Spellemannspris, the Norwegian equivalent to the Grammy, for his self-titled debut album. The following year saw the release of his album ‘Sierra’ which again made the critics turn their thumbs up. Niko won the Liet International, the song contest for European Minority Languages in 2004 where he was awarded the ‘Public Choice price’ as well. Summer 2008 saw the release of his double album ‘Birrat Birra’ – again, with strong reviews at home and abroad. The album earned Valkeapää Norwegian Folk Music Awards in two categories, ‘Open Class’ and class for ‘Most Innovative Folk Music’. 2012 has so far been highly productive for the prolific artist; his fourth album ‘Gusto’ saw its release to critical acclaim in April while August’s ‘ÄÄ’ has performed even better with unanimous praise in the domestic music press.

Valkeapää has performed frequently at home and abroad over the last decade playing festivals and concerts throughout Scandinavia as well as in Holland, USA, Canada, Alaska, Russia, Japan and Brazil.

Niko Valkeapää Womex 2012 showcase:

Nordic Club

offWOMEX (Vellidis)

Thu Oct 18th 00:45hrs

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