(NorthSide, 1997)

Wimme Saari is in the forefront of contemporary joik music. Joik or yoik is the traditional chant of Sámiland, the region that stretches across the north from Norway to Russia. This area is better known to most people as Lapland.

Wimme is the first recording that Wimme released under his own name. It followed appearances on two albums by the Finnish techno-ambient group RinneRadio, whose members return the favor by backing Wimme here. Wimme's more recent work has become more dance and techno-oriented, but this first album is more ambient than anything else. Ambient, however, does not mean boring or wishy-washy in this case. The moody soundscapes on this album paint a portrait of a sometimes harsh and remote land with few human inhabitants.

Joik will remind many listeners of Native American chant. There are several styles of joik; Wimme hails from a region of northern Finland where the North Sámi luohti joik is predominant. Luohti joik is a method of expressing the essence of a person, an animal or a location. The words used in a luohti are few and may be allusive or enigmatic. Wimme builds on this traditional base, but he continues into what has been called "free joik," which uses a wider variety of vocal techniques and sounds and is not bound by the traditional structure of the joik form.

The opener, "Duoldi Ája" ("Boiling Spring"), sets the album's tone well. The sound of a bubbling hot spring gives way to Wimme's keening voice. The hush of the landscape itself listening seems to surround the music. Each subsequent joik builds the impression. "Lodderáidaras" ("Milky Way") evokes the dark half of the northern year and the stars wheeling above the tundra as ravens chortle below. The soaring, majestic "Boaimmás" ("Rough-legged Buzzard") looks outward as far as the hawk it joiks. Wimme's multitracked voice on "Jusse-Vilba" ("Cousin Jusse") conjures a village full of joikers. The mood of the album ranges from peaceful on "Iditidja" ("5 AM") to ferocious on "Álbmái" ("Strong"). Wimme's voice travels from growls to chants to howls with no difficulty; sometimes he falls into silence and lets the backing tracks build their impressions. The samples and electronics that provide the setting for Wimme's vocals are spare and understated, present without overwhelming his voice. This gives the music an openness and allows the listener's imagination to roam through the soundscapes.

There are four traditional joiks on this album; the rest are originals. They are all of a piece as Wimme's "free joik" makes them his own. Unfortunately, there are no translations of the words in the liner notes, but the evocative sounds will lead listeners to conjure their own mental images of the far north, whether or not they have ever been there. It is a good introduction to the world of joik.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 9 November 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.