Johan Sara Jr. Orvoš: the mountain of outlook

Womex '09: Sometimes record titles are more than catchy words. For Sámi artist Johan Sara Jr. the titles of his records are in themselves important acts of naming, and thus of invoking the named. His latest album is entitled Orvoš, which means the elevation from which everything is visible; the point where one stands to keep an eye on the world.

Listen to and download Johan Sara Jr. releases here

Johan Sara Jr 2009 II (foto: Knut Ĺserud)

-The same notion of perspective is true of the music, says Sara. On Orvoš I have delved far back into the Sámi tradition and the Joik on this record is closer to the original expression than much of the Joik that features in modern Sámi crossover music.

For the uninitiated, Joik is the name of the ancient Sámi vocal expression that is so much more than an artistic or cultural expression in the commonplace sense of the word. In its original form the Joik was functional; it was a way of structuring the world and of naming and sustaining its entities.

-The tradition that I belong to, which is the northern Sámi tradition, is close to this original and functional essence. Aesthetics are not the main concern, and it is far from the pleasantly exotic and perhaps romantic idiom that some associate with Joik. Other traditions are more epic in nature, with more words and more narrative, while my tradition is truthful to the harshness of the arctic conditions. On Orvoš it has been important for me to bring out the truth that the Joik names; that life in the north is often rough and uncomfortable.

On Orvoš this is expressed musically by the juxtaposition of Joik with elements of punk, brute noise and a rough-edged and crunchy sound.

-I wanted the sound to be unpolished and raw, with references to punk. Orvoš also has elements of jazz in it, and rock, but most of all the music is adapted to the functional, truth-baring Joik.

-On Boska (2003), the previous record in the cycle of which Orvoš is the third, it was the other way around, says Sara. Boska was based more on a western musical syntax, and perhaps more accessible in that way.
Orvoš is more complex and less accessible: there is more movement in the rhythm and intricate micro tonality woven into the melodic phrases. The north-Sámi tradition is musically complex, and it is the melodic and rhythmic structures that drive it, not words or narrative. In this way it is close to the shamanistic, trance-inducing essence of Joik, even though I have too much respect for this aspect of our culture to say that my music is shamanistic.

Those of his people who have heard Orvoš, and listened carefully, have given their consent reveals Sara:

-They acknowledge that it is a special project; something that delves deeper than the mere exotic and tries to re-establish the truth-functional nature of the original Joik.

There is a lot of ideology behind Sara’s musical project and the band Johan Sara Jr. Group. As mentioned, Orvoš belongs in a circular and holistic unity with the previous records, as well as those to come. Orvoš bespeaks the mountain, the earth; geology. The former, Boska was about the plants and flora, while the first, Ovcci Vuomi Ovtta Veaiggis was the Joik of the wolf and an invocation of the animal realm.

The next record, reveals Sara, will be about man.

-It is natural, that the next step is to Joik about man and mankind. Perhaps it will be about our direction; a record of reflection, I don’t know.

What will making man the theme entail musically? In which direction will you be pushing the Joik the next time?

-That is a good question, and one I am unable to answer. However, it is true that my project is to take the Joik places it has never been before and juxtapose it with musical idioms and attitudes of the unconventional kind. What we did with Orvoš, bringing in punk, noise and rough-edged crunch, had not been done before to my knowledge.

Joik is often a matter of improvising, or more precisely of voicing a kind of entity that is already there. Joik has no beginning or end; it is a circular, ongoing thing in which repetitions and a few key words make up the framework, especially so in the northern tradition. How is this nature of the Joik accommodated into a recording process we wonder?

-To a certain extent we let the Joik develop with the musical arrangements, but on the basis of a more or less clear idea. It is the Joik and its melody that forms the backbone, and then musical arrangements and instrumental improvisation take place with and around the Joik. Orvoš has been a three-year long process, during which I have worked closely with co-producer Erik Halvorsen.

The question of recording, and more generally, the question of how Joik is conveyed and passed on, takes us to one of Sara’s main concerns as a Sámi musician and pedagogue:

-Traditionally the Joik was passed on as an oral expression, from father to son. But we have to realize that this tradition is now extinct, which means that we must think differently on how this essential aspect of our culture can be preserved and passed on. It is important that we work towards de-mystifying the Joik, so that we can supplant the hazy notions of an archaic spiritual practise, with concrete education. Even if it may feel like a breech of tradition, it is vital that the Joik is institutionalised as a musical expression which can be taught on par with e.g. Norwegian folk music.

The issue is close to Sara’s heart, for he has spent much of his life as a pedagogue and he thinks the potential of Sámi music as a global musical idiom is still vast and largely untapped. This brings us to Womex and his expectations towards the showcase he is doing there with his group.

-I have never been to Womex before, so I don’t know what to expect really. But we certainly have high hopes for the showcase and focus all our energy and resources on this now. Naturally the most important thing is to attract as many as possible of the international music business people to our showcase. The key is to establish contacts, and get a foothold in the European markets for world music. Like I said, Sámi music is still very much unknown, despite artists like Mari Boine. When I have played in Europe people have been amazed and intrigued; wondering where this unique expression hails from. It is European music, I tell them. Hopefully, the future will entail a knowledge and exposure of Sámi music on par with that of other indigenous traditions. The potential is great, I am certain of it.

Showcase - Womex 2009
Fri 30 oct
Nordic Club
Copenhagen Concert Center/Studio 4

Johan Sara Jr.’s MySpace site

Johan Sara Jr.’s site

Johan Sara Jr. on Spotify

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