“I wanted to create something that was clear and to-the-bone,” says Steinar Raknes, double bass maestro and the instrumental vehicle of Skáidi. “I had spent a lot of time learning and appropriating the joik as a musical expression and trying to understand it. Finally I got to a point where my personal experience of the joik became very clear and immediate. And that was my point of departure for Skáidi; I took hold of the joik the way I heard it.”
The other part of Skáidi is Inga Juuso, one of the great active representatives of this tradition. Juuso and Raknes met around ten years ago, when both were employed as official public musicians in the county of Troms (just south of Finmark).
“We started playing together in different projects,” says Raknes. “But it was mostly in the format of bigger bands; pretty mainstream World music with a lot of sound and joik at the forefront – but not as the constitutional element. That was what we eventually wanted to turn around with Skáidi. However, the years with these projects allowed me to get really well into the joik because Inga and I had so much time to rehearse and play together. All along I have been acutely aware of the great privilege it is to be working with such a powerful exponent as Inga.”
Inga Juuso is a joiker, actor and teacher; truly one of the towering personalities of the Sámi culture. Her repertoire is seemingly inexhaustible. Skáidi’s eponymous 2008 debut was based on a selection of traditional joiks from Juuso’s vast repertoire.
“We started preparing to make a record almost immediately,” says Raknes. “That is how Skáidi started. It was a very intense period. Nothing was written down or composed, it was more a matter of the two of us finding out together how the joik really sounded; extracting the music from it, so to speak, and reiterating that essence in a way that made the different joiks stand apart and become tunes. Inga is a very confident and strong joiker, meaning that she is very true to the form even though she does not relate to any fixed musical parameters; e.g., in terms of rhythm. My job was to try and expose the musical structures that are in fact there in the joik and exhibit and enhance these instrumentally. I wrote most of the musical arrangements based on click-track recordings of the joiks played instrumentally. But in many cases, we also improvised together and tried to develop ideas and elements that we discovered along the way.
Even though the basis of Skáidi’s music is constituted by Juuso’s traditional joiks, there are many passages without vocals at all; instrumental stretches where the bass travels the landscape on its own.
“I think the bass and the joik are pretty much equal in Skáidi,” says Raknes. “We are two powerful musical voices, I dare say, and our interplay also entails that the bass is sometimes alone and at the front. Playing in Skáidi is a very different mode to be in for me as a jazz bass player: The simplicity of the joik in terms of harmonics makes it a challenge to create music around it; i.e., adding colour to the expression without disturbing the joik itself. At the same time, I find that the way we work together in Skáidi gives me an enormous sense of freedom. Musically, Inga and I follow each other very intuitively and dynamically. This instinctive and very honest way of working is quite similar to playing in a jazz band where the musicians follow each other, improvising, and let the music unfold on that basis.”
From the very start, Skáidi has played around the whole world. From India to Argentina, in Europe and America, the response has been overwhelming, relates Raknes.
“People react very differently, but positively. At first many express a sense of disbelief because the joik is so strange to their ears. But pretty soon I think most people realise that they have in fact heard similar things before; different traditions of chanting and blues, etc. Anyhow, the strength of Skáidi is that our music is very diverse within its parameters and that we display a lot of energy. Our concerts draw a wide audience and I think the music comes across as composite and unpredictable, which people always appreciate.”
Raknes makes a point of the fact that Skáidi does not try to invoke the spiritual and shamanistic aspects of the Sámi musical heritage. Its focus is always on personal presence and musical interaction. Now a new album is in the planning, due to be recorded in May.
“The main difference from the debut is that this time Inga has written some new joiks,” he explains. “However, the basis is still the same tradition as that from which the joiks on the first record were taken. Apart from that, we haven’t really decided what the new album will sound like.”
As for Showcase Scotland, Raknes recognizes the huge privilege it is to be awarded a slot at such an important event. However, their minds are not in Scotland yet, for Skáidi have many places to play before that.
“Our program for the winter is extremely packed,” says Raknes. “Before travelling to Scotland we are playing in Japan, Madrid and London. And later on in 2010 we are touring Poland, the Baltic States, the U.S., China, Argentina and Bolivia.”
Take an ancient, indigenous vocal expression, colour and arrange it with some double bass magic and the world is your playground. Skáidi is the proof.
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