What is Joik?

Luohti, Vuolle, Lu'dd, Juoiggus

Joik (also spelled yoik) is a traditional Sámi song form thought to be one of the longest-living music traditions in Europe. The verb for presenting a joik (e.g. Northern Sami juoigat) is transitive, which is often interpreted as indicating that a joik is not about something, but that the joiker evokes something (a person, animal, thing) through song.

“A yoik is not merely a description; it attempts to capture its subject in its entirety: it's like a holographic, multi-dimensional living image, a replica, not just a flat photograph or simple visual memory. It is not about something, it is that something. It does not begin and it does not end. A yoik does not need to have words — its narrative is in its power, it can tell a life story in song. The singer can tell the story through words, melody, rhythm, expressions or gestures.” —Ursula Länsman

Beginning in the 17th century, Christian missionaries attempted to banish the traditional pagan faith of the Sámi, denouncing joik as sinful. The pietistic Laestadian revival of the 19th century pushed joik further underground. As recently as the 1950s, joik was forbidden in Sámi schools, as well as many homes. Mari Boine, one of its most consequential and celebrated performers today, said her family considered joiking “the devil’s work.” Some see in Laestadian practices remnants of the old ways, however. Lawyer and reknowned joiker Ande Somby has remarked that Laestadian hymns include many of the techniques used in yoiking.

In the 1970s, Nils-Aslak Valkeapää and others brought joik back into the light, and today it spans many genres, including rock, metal, blues and hiphop. 

Joik continues to play a powerful role in the Sámi renaissance and cultural self-determination.