in Reviews

Yoik and choir collaboration without borders

by Saara-Maria Salonen

​"Award winning conductor Erik Westberg and his vocal ensemble teamed up with Sámi musicians to create a one of a kind album."

Award winning conductor Erik Westberg and his vocal ensemble teamed up with Sámi musicians to create a one of a kind album. Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble consists of up to 20 singers from northern Finland and Sweden and has been singing for nearly 30 years. For their latest album SÁPMI: Rájáheapme – Gränslöst – Boundless, Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble is collaborating with Sámi artists Frode Fjellheim, Katarina Barruk and Johan Märak, among others. Fjellheim is a South Sámi musician and yoiker, best known for his song “Eatnemen Vuelie”. Barruk is an Ume Sámi singer and songwriter, singing in the endangered Ume Sámi language. Johan Märak is a Lule Sámi yoiker, who sadly passed away before the album release.

SÀPMI consists of layered choir singing with minimal instruments used. Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble and the guest artists let the yoiking and choir singing take the lead, providing a fantastic platform for traditional Sámi singing. As a whole, SÀPMI moves from etherial to almost theatrical atmosphere, mixing together western and Sámi traditions.

The natural rhythms of traditional Sámi singing yoik works well with a choir. In Suv Dethe: I. Evelina, Barruk’s singing and yoik joins elegantly with the majestic choir. Yoik traditionally has very few words, lending itself beautifully to the choir setting. Yet at points the album has a church-like atmosphere which feels slightly disconnected from the imagery the Sámi musicians bring to the album.

SÀPMI showcases Sámi talent from different areas and generations in a new way, sometimes verging on psychedelic. Min Eallin (Our life), which discusses the disparity between living between tradition and modernity, is done by using poems from several Sámi poets, and seems to be out of time and place on purpose.

The theme of rájáheapme can be translated to “borderless”, which this album is. Much like the Sámi as a group are traditionally not bound by borders, SÀPMI is not defined simply as a choir album. Although choir singing in Sámi is not a new concept, SÀPMI is adding to the wide variety of Sámi music.

Erik Westberg / Erik Westberg Vokalensemble: SÀPMI

Swedish Society 2022