Visiting the Pacific Northwest from Norway last week were members of the Gaup family, who met with our group in Tacoma after performing at Chief Leschi School. It was a magical evening of stories, yoik, and new friendships.
The youngest Gaup, Risten, is a recording artist who recently performed with her sisters at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Risten’s father Ánte Mikkel, the reknowned yoiker, just won the Norwegian Sámi Parliament’s Sámi Language Motivation Prize for 2013 (for his work as an author, yoiker, and teacher). A engaging performer, he taught us about the history of yoik and demonstrated its variability. He even took requests, recalling various yoiks for the fox, for example. With a rapt audience and seemingly tireless performers, we could have spent the whole evening there.
Yoik cannot be defined; it must be experienced, but this explanation helps:
For the singer, the yoik is a way to process and release emotions. It is a release and a cleansing where one can express emotions inexpressible in words. A yoik creates a telepathic link to the story or person it features. Many men have won a wife for themselves by using the yoik.
There is no way to experience the power of the yoik except to listen to it. Its natural character and the voices of the natural elements do not become apparent until the listener has thrown himself upon the winds.
The yoik has survived through the centuries. It has renewed itself and changed its meaning, but it is still indispensible for the Sámi people. To consider the power of the yoik, we need only consider how eagerly outsiders have tried to destroy it. Whether this has been due to fear or to a lust for power remains a mystery. (Ursula Länsman)
Ánte was not given a personal yoik at birth due to Laestadian prohibitions (similar to the musician Marie Boine). When he received it as a teenager from an uncle, he felt as if he “became himself.” His story will resonate with many; the work of restoring culture is a vital one for many reasons, both individual and social. (It was interesting to learn that some of us searvi members gave our children “name songs” long before confirming our heritage!)
The staff at the Antique Sandwich Company were gracious, allowing us to take over their dining room and stage for the evening. As the sun set, several of us formed a caravan to Seattle to pay homage to Risten’s muse, Kurt Cobain, at his former mansion on Lake Washington. Our evening ended at an Irish pub on the waterfront, where shared many stories and Ánte yoiked a farewell. It was a evening we’ll not soon forget.
Those traveling to Finnfest this week will have an oportunity to meet the Gaups. Don’t miss it!