Mari Boine, Eight Seasons (Northside, 2003)
Mari Boine, Remixed (Northside, 2003)
Mari Boine is one of the many artists brought to American audiences by way of Northside. These recordings were originally released by Lean in 2001 and 2002 and licensed by Northside for USA release in 2003.
Boine is the embodiment of an ancient, present, and future musical spirit. From a part of the world I call "reindeer country", she sings the soul of her native Sámi culture and melds it with modern technology, transporting the listener to a magical, spiritual place.
The Sámi people, like so many "native" populations around the world, have had to survive under the rule of another population, in this case the Norwegians. It is a similar scenario to that of the Europeans colonizing North America and marginalizing the Native Americans, the Chinese overtaking the Tibetans, the Portuguese conquering Brazil, etc. Every time it happens, the native people are required to "convert" the new authority, risking the loss of their own beliefs and customs and being pushed to the remote edges of the land. Over the generations, the old customs take on bad connotations and are shoved aside to be forgotten. But sometimes there remain enough pockets of the old knowledge to eventually surface again and be rediscovered. Mari Boine has been instrumental in keeping Sámi music alive and bringing it to listeners inside and outside her homeland. In the process, she has not only performed the material in a traditional way, but most often presents it with a mixture of ancient and modern technology and instruments. It took a while for her to win the hearts of the Sámis, who believed she was playing with the "devil's music". Over time they have come around to appreciate their traditions and their ethnicity. What started as simply a love of music for Boine, has developed into a deep reverence for her roots. That reverence comes through solidly in her music.
A quote from her statement on the Northside Web Site says it all about her philosophy of life and therefore her philosophy of music: "Western culture makes a distance between you and your body or heart. In Sámi culture you think of everything as a whole." Amen.
Remixed is a collection of 10 songs, each track remixed by different artists. Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble are two of the many included in this project. The very nature of it being remixed gives the whole album that "techno" feel, but Boine's voice is no run-of-the-mill techno voice. Music for facilitating a trance has to, by its very nature, be repetitive and insistent. That's what puts you into the trance. It is a very logical development then to have witnessed the emergence of modern "techno/trance" music. Synthesizers easily accommodate the issues of continuous rhythms and drones, two of the most important elements. Add some traditional singing over the top in those lovely old modes and, voila, trance music for the modern day that feels both old and new at the same time. Boine isn't the only artist that has done this, of course, but she is one of the best. Her voice is strong, confident, and deep. The Sámi joiking style of singing is ever-present and adds something special to the whole timbre. (Some of you may also be familiar with Wimme Saari's work. He is the Southern Sámi male counterpart to Boine.)
The recording that came out after Remixed, Eight Seasons, is where I think she really hits her stride. Produced by jazz keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft, it combines the best of techno, traditional, and jazz sensibilities. The dynamic range is much wider and the songs give her even more room to spread her vocal abilities. The instrumental texture is wider also, including *Jan Garbarek* on tenor sax. Other musicians add flutes, soprano sax, drums, bass, guitars (including Boine), and synthesizers. There is a lovely balance between the acoustic and electrified instruments. There are many flavors of other cultures beyond Nordic: the drumming on "In a Blanket of Warmth" (#8) is particularly fabulousand brings in a quasi African/Middle Eastern sound. "You Never Know" (#9) takes an about face with a plaintive acoustic guitar and a vocal style more in line with the "singer songwriter" category. You will also hear a lot of melodic similarities between the Sámis and the Native Americans. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that they are from the same genetic stock if we go back far enough in history.
Most of the songs are in Boine's native Sámi language, one is half in Sámi and half in English, another all in English. She sings about her land, the soul, spirits, and the struggles and rewards of a life lived close to the land and the sky. The accompanying booklet is complete in both languages except for "Mu Váibmu Vádjul Doppe" (#6). Perhaps it is one of those songs that defies accurate translation. I must compliment the translators Siri Gaski and Kristi Nolen Golmohammadi for bringing to English the poetry of the Sámi language.
If I were to pick a favorite piece from Eight Seasons, I think it would be "Song for the Unborn" ("Reagákeahtes"). The sound of wind made by the flute and a simple bass line are all that is needed for the first verse (in English) and chorus (in Sámi). A fluid electric guitar, gentle percussion and a melodic flute ease their way into the arrangement. Boine sings of the dreams, hopes and worries that any woman experiences before birth. The first lines are "I feel the wind that whispers through my skin, melodies of ancient broken dreams, They fill the air and cross the seven seas, seagulls bring the voices back to me...". The verses are sung, and at times almost whispered, to the baby, while the choruses are sung to the Creator and get progressively bigger as the song goes on. Regardless of whether the words are for the unborn or the greater power, she maintains an intimacy such that I feel I've slipped inside her brain to listen.
The title of the CD comes from the book People of Eight Seasons by Ernst Manker (Nordbok-Sweden, 1975). Segments of the book are also included in the CD booklet. The excerpts are taken from some of the writing of early travelers to the land of the Fenni who "lived in the farthest north, in a scarcely habitable land...." (as told by The Dane Saxo Grammaticus). I would be very interested in getting a copy of the book given the tidbits provided. The portions chosen for the booklet provide some interesting "outsider" views of these people; a good jumping off point for us then to hear what Boine has to say about her world.
I wasn't able to find a Web Site dedicated just to Mari Boine, but I did find a page with a long list of links covering a lot of information about her, her recordings, reviews, collaborations, etc. You can find the list here. Do yourself a favor and get aquainted with Mari Boine.