Every year Artistic Director James Keelaghan writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times previewing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival

By James Keelaghan

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I created and narrated a limited series called A Sense of Place for the CBC and CKUA radio networks. Producer, Les Siemieniuk, and I wanted to create a show where people played pieces about the landscapes they were from. We recorded backstage at festivals, in hotel rooms and backyards. There was an interview to find out why they chose the song they did — and why it evoked a landscape they loved. There were some amazing performances with some emotional stories.

Of all those sessions, one stands out above all the others. The performer was Wimmi Sari who is from Finland and he joiks — pronounced and spelled in English, yoiks.

Yoiking is the ancestral form of singing of the Sámi people in Nordic countries. Traditional yoiks are meant to evoke a sense of the landscape, so Wimmi and yoiking seemed a natural fit for the show.

We set up in a hotel room at the Edmonton Inn, the traditional accommodations of the Edmonton Folk Festival. I asked what he wanted to sing and why. He said he was going to yoik his father. Yoik isn’t about a person — it’s meant to be the person, in the same way a picture represents but is not about a person. When he said that, I realized that yoik was more than a song. Somehow, in his performance, he captured a triad of landscape, person and animal — a frozen lake, the distinctive gait of his father, and a herd of reindeer rounding the horizon. It was electric.

Like the indigenous culture of this country, the yoik and much of Sámi culture were targeted by the church and the state. In a not too distant past, to yoik was literally to sin. But the yoik could not be suppressed, it would not be erased.

In fact, if you have a child in your life under the age of 12, you’ve heard joik. South Sámi musician Frode Fjellheim composed the opening track of Frozen titled, “Vuelie”, which features yoik.

Wimmi sang in a traditional style called ”the mumble” but yoiking is dynamic and, among young Sámi, there are new styles emerging.

So let me introduce you to the band Vildá — Hildá Länsman and Viivi Maria Saarenkylä.

Hildá was born in a small Sámi village called Ohcejohka in the northernmost municipality of Finland and was raised in the Sámi culture embracing reindeer husbandry, handicrafts and yoik. Her mother, Ulla Pirttijärvi, is a well-known singer in her own right. Together they formed the Solju, a band with a style that is a bridge connecting traditional and modern Sámi music with European experimental pop. In May 2019, Solju’s debut album won ‘Best International Indigenous Release’ at the Indigenous Music Awards, an event held during the 14th Annual Manito Ahbee Festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Viivi has been playing the accordion since she was six years old. In a country with a long tradition of accordion, she stands out for her innovative approach. A musical omnivore, she has soaked up the accordion styles of other countries and players. With loops, pedals and percussion, she creates soundscapes to accentuate the landscapes of the joik. She uses the accordion like it’s an orchestra.

Together they create a nimble, beguiling sound that is sometimes joyous, sometimes ethereal.

Vildá’s debut album Vildaluodda was released this year. It’s been getting rave reviews internationally. The band has performed on various occasions from concerts to film screenings and also appeared internationally, among others, at the world’s largest accordion festival — Carrefour Mondial de l’Accordéon in Montmagny, Quebec and at the Nordic Folk Alliance in Gothenburg, Sweden. This year, the band’s international tours will take them to Spain, Bulgaria, France and Canada.

Hildá Länsman said that when they decided to set off on an adventure together as Vildá, they never guessed at how exciting the world would become. But she always returns to “Arctic fells, frosty winds, wide waters and deep forests. That is our home – the North. For us, it is the birthplace of our attitude as well as many memories, a source of inspiration, stories and tradition, a vast playground full of endless trails to travel.”

As they stroll around that musical wilderness, they are leaving behind a track like any other creature or being on this planet – In their case, Vildaluodda is a wild track we want to follow.

We are pleased to welcome Vildá for their first time in Owen Sound and the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival. We’re hoping we’ll inspire a joik.

Summerfolk44 gets underway Friday, August 16th at Kelso Beach Park. You can find out more about Vildá, tickets and all things Summerfolk by going to summerfolk.org.