ZaRecords Mixtape 9: Languages

Remember how earlier this week I tried to get you to guess what the theme of the upcoming Mixtape would be, based on Radio Radio’s song? It’s time for the big reveal! For the 9th Mixtape, my friend Arni and I present to you songs performed in various odd, old and otherwise less-known languages throughout the world. We talk a little about the history of the languages and of the peoples they belong to, demonstrate a bit of ignorance here and there (for which we apologize and ask you to enlighten us in the comments or on Facebook, if you can) and have a couple of hearty laughs. Enjoy!

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Mari Boine Persen – Eallin (Live) 1996

My mother once asked me what my favorite place in the world was. It was one of those “Don’t think about it! First thing that comes into your mind.” kind of questions. What came into my mind had the effect of surprising me, and appalling her. My favorite place in the world was a cave I once went in with some friends. It was pitch black, for I had stayed a little behind, not daring to climb a slippery slope right at the end of it. It was cool, very quiet, the echo was enchanting, and I started singing. What I sang in that cave was “Ethno Jenny” by Mari Boine.

That song isn’t performed on this album, but I still stand by my choice to illustrate her music. This is the best example I could think of of “world music” surpassing its limitations and becoming more than a cheesy, new-age, slightly condescending and anachronistic way of paying tribute to different cultures by pampered westerners too bored with city life. This isn’t world music. This is Saami jazz-rock.

A long time ago, Discovery Channel had a number of short clips showcasing endangered languages. The one which stuck with me the most was the one about the language of the people of Lapland and their singing, called “joiking”. A staggeringly beautiful girl was talking about her learning to joik from her grandmother, and described it as singing the rain, the snow, the tundra. There’s something terribly akin to jazz in that statement. Improvising songs as they happen all around, tuning in to the music permeating reality, that’s what jazz can do above all other forms of music, and I was surprised to hear that joiking functioned in much the same way.

This is what Mari Boine’s music sounds to me – a half-ritual chant, as cold as the northern wind and as profoundly personal as the inside of a fur-lined snow-cave, with a fire in the middle. As I understand it, Saami culture was largely persecuted not too long ago, on political and religious reasons. There’s a trace of that in this music, a frustration, a rage trembling in her voice, and most of all, strength, a determination which she manages to convey even to ignorant listeners like myself, separated from the entire context and history of her music. The way Mari Boine managed to infuse her heritage with the means to really reach out and make sense to her entire listener base is amazing. The effort and dogged stubbornness that was necessary to hold on to the joiking tradition is easily apparent in her music and while I realize that it’s still a question of taste whether one likes it or not, I don’t believe there can be any question on the immense value of the achievement she’s spearheading.

So, to celebrate the first snowfall of the year, I give you Mari Boine Persen. Her simple, sincere and searing presence has the effect of strengthening me at the coming of winter and of reminding me of my favorite place in the world. I hope you enjoy her music as much as I do. As a side-note, I couldn’t really find any recordings from the actual Eallin album, so I did the best I could and posted some live video of her from different concerts.