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Idjagiedas – CD review, world music, Norway, Mari Boine

ancient voices, ancient spirits

ancient voices, ancient spirits

Idjagiedas (In The Hand Of The Night) – Mari Boine

This music has ancient roots. It strikes a deep chord within us, which resonates. Mari Boine is Sami, from northern Norway. A place we used to call Lapland. “Norway? Music? Get outta here”! Bear with me. Mari Boine has almost single-handedly resurrected indigenous Sami music with its keen sense of a spiritual connection with nature, from the oblivion to which Christian evangelism consigned it. Stigmatised as blasphemous and pagan, even Mari Boine’s Christian parents were doubtful of her determination to breathe life in to their musical heritage with a superb fusion with modern musical instruments and idioms – for example rock, folk and jazz. The results are immediately appealing and accessible to contemporary ears through great rock guitar work (occasionally reminiscent of Dire Straits at their best) and totally distinctive percussion. The results are simply breathtaking. Don’t take my word for it – try it.

As a philosopher I’m a word man. I love the blend of lyric with melody and rhythm. In translation Mari Boine’s lyrics are simple, poetic and evocative. But uniquely with her music I find that un-distracted by meanings, the beauty of the rhythms and sounds of an alien language emerges and I relish simply letting her pure music wash over me. There is here a striking echo of Native American music both in tone and atmosphere. Haunting, and insistently drawing you into an experience that is new and fresh to your ears, yet seems to carry echoes of something elusive but familiar. Deep. Somehow, I have no idea how, this speaks to me. And others I have introduced to it.

Idjagiedas is perhaps the best of the 6 or so Mari Boine CD’s available in the UK. So a friendly challenge: listen to a couple of tracks in a good large record store with a World Music section. My suggestion would be track 6 and then perhaps the only song in English, track12 ‘Big Medicine’. But almost any tracks would do. My hunch is many of you won’t leave the store empty-handed.

Idjagiedas is more contemplative in tone than some of Mari Boine’s CD’s. But when the lady lets go – she rocks. If soaring guitars and multi-layered, highly distinctive drumming is your bag, try the live performance ‘Eallin’. As visceral, sheer in-your-face attack as you’ll find with any of our better known home-grown rock bands. The band and the audience have a ball.

The tracks on Idjagiedas are eclectic, showing the full range of Mari Boine’s unique voice. At the heart of Sami music is the ‘joik’ a traditional form of Sami song. With distinct echoes of Native American chants, the joik is specific to a particular person or place. Rather than being a song about that person or place – it seeks to conjure their essence directly in the music. Track one ‘Little Yellowbird’ has an insistent guitar-driven beat and solid drumming base. Very much in the spirit of jazz, Marie Boine weaves her voice into the instrumental sounds, just like another instrument. Title track Idjagiedas begins just voice and urgent percussion and builds to a moment when the rest of the band are simply drawn into the song, adding texture and melody to the sustained rhythm. ‘The Shadow’ begins a capella, intimate, inviting and then the music insinuates itself into the words and the song develops its melody and rhythm. ‘Where Did All Our Colours Go?’ begins as a chant and develops gradually into a spiritual lament. ‘My Friend Angel Tribe’ is just a single acoustic instrument, sounds like mandolin, with voice. Mari’s voice is modulated to blend with the lightness of the melody and sound. ‘On The Fells Of The North’ is magical. All its elements come together to form a simply stunning mixture of spiritual chant, with a powerful rhythm and melody driving it forward. This combination is irresistibly sensual and evocative. ‘Little Bird’ is a scrap of a musical poem so delicate, the only adequate word for it is exquisite. ‘Reindeer of Diamond’ begins with light bell-like percussion Mari Boine’s voice then puts the force and rhythm into the song which the rest of the band takes up and takes over, adding texture and feel. ‘Irresistible’ is a kind of hymn to nature using musically simulated natural sounds, the opening recalls the haunting sound of whales communicating. Guitars slice into this calm atmosphere to unsettle it. Musically ‘The Mermaid’ is more narrative in form and even in an alien language one can sense its ‘story-telling’ quality. A joik I guess to conjure the mermaid at home in the sea. ‘Uldda Girl’ is sensual, sexual and becomes more urgent and insistent as the song builds. ‘Big Medicine’ sung in English is a simple folk song in form and strongly recalls Mari Boine’s friend, Native American singer/songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Give this one a try. However unlikely it seems, you may be as delightfully surprised as I was when again I just chanced on this quite unique and powerful performer, while browsing the record store. It may cost you though – 6 CD’s once you’re hooked adds up.

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