Rap and Tradition The Voice of the Oppressed Cultures

Áilu Valle in Sápmi
Áilu Valle expresses his relationship to his culture and the nature in his music. | Photo (detail): Marko Vasara

When thinking about Indigenous traditions, Rap usually is not the first thing that comes to mind. For musician Áilu Valle, it’s the perfect way to express the struggles of the Sámi and their relationship to nature. 

Music and artistry carry a profound meaning for me and my life. At the same time, I want there to be profound meaning in the content of my art – since the Sámi share the same struggle as the Indigenous Peoples around the world. that have been under colonial rule, I feel it is extremely important to bring forth the voice of the oppressed cultures, which, for me, represents the voice of nature. 

All of the people involved in the production of the album Viidon sieiddit were featured in an exhibition in the Siida Sámi Museum with our art installations and published a book about the topics and findings in the research and art process during the project. Viidon sieiddit was produced as part of the science and art collaboration project “The New Dimensions of the Sámi Relationship to Nature” (2016-2019), led by the sociology professor Jarno Valkonen and the professor, specialised in Sámi research, Sanna Valkonen from the University of Lapland. Other main members of this project were the visual artists Marja Helander and Stina Aikio. 

The album consists of nine rap songs produced by Tatu A, Uyarakq, 169 and Tumma; and eleven soundscapes produced by Sámi-Canadian violinist and sound designer Raquel Rawn. 

Cycle of the Eight Seasons 

The soundscapes on the Viidon sieiddit album were part of the Siida Sámi Museum art exhibition “The New Dimensions of the Sámi Relationship to Nature”. The storyline of them follows the cycle of the eight seasons in the North, starting with the polar night. The Sámi concept of time is based on the cycle of nature and in particular the annual behavioural patterns of the reindeer. The seasons span from spring to winter, when the pregnant deer are drawn from the forests to the calving grounds in the mountains. In the summer, the sun does not set entirely and the calves get earmarked, this season is followed by pre-autumn and autumn, when they return to their winter grounds. After pre-winter comes winter, when there is no sun to be seen anymore and the reindeer and the Sámi wait out in the forests for the next season, when the cycle will repeat itself.  

In the album, we use nature samples recorded by Niilo Rasmus from Ohcejohka. These samples are the cornerstones of the whole album since the soundscapes and the rap songs are built around them. 

Sacred Rocks 

In this essay, I would like to present the title track of the album “Viidon sieiddit – Widened Sacred Rocks”, a drum and bass influenced rap song, produced by 169 aka Mio Negga from Ubmie, the Swedish side of Sápmi. 

The name of the song refers to the present-day situation, where the Sámi are part of the modern global culture but, at the same time, still have a strong bond to the traditional way of life. Sacred rocks have had an important role in Sámi culture as places of worship They demonstrate the locality of the culture; for example, how the Sámi have been strongly connected to the local nature. However, nowadays, we are also connected to nature worldwide through the technological devices we use, whether we want it or not. 

This song is about the challenges of living in the world today as Sámi, the struggle of sustaining the traditional culture in a rapidly changing world. The saying in the chorus about “Sámi as the last to use skis and the first to use snowmobiles” is a quote by legendary Sámi linguist, professor and politician Ole Henrik Magga. This quote perfectly demonstrates the core of Sámi culture, the ability to adapt. On the album there are also songs, in which I am more impersonal, I talk about challenges in general and reflect on potential solutions, which would, of course, demand action from everyone, especially the ones who are in the position of power. 

Through my artistic expression, I have fulfilled my dreams time and time again and experienced things I could not have imagined growing up in a small reindeer herding village of Gámasmohkki. I have worked with numerous rap artists that I have looked up to at a time when I had no idea that one day, I will have a career doing what I love most: being a musician. I have collaborated with Paleface, Asa, Julma H, Mokoma and performed with Mari Boine and Sofia Jannok, just to name a few. I have had the chance to perform to presidents and ministers and gave concerts in Paris, Berlin, Seattle and Mexico City. 

Viidon sieiddit is mixed by Tatu A, Uyarakq, 169. The digital release was mastered by Uyarakq and the upcoming vinyl release is mastered by Tommi Langen. The project was funded by Koneen Säätiö and the album production costs were funded by Taike. 

 
Audio wird geladen

Viidon sieiddit – Widened Sacred Rocks

[Verse 1] 
 
Herding, herding the herd 
Following the weather, following the soul 
Balancing the numbers, protecting from the predators 
And carnivores, in the goahti sharing the info 
While cooking, telling stories 
Taking care of things humbly 
By the campfire, narrating 
With yoiks (form of song in Sámi music) saving, reminiscing 
Taking care of the environment, the family 
Relatives, siidas, diligently, firmly 
Communicating with the air, water and earth 
Asking the hunting luck from the sacrifice stones 
Learning the seasons, favorable locations 
Over nights, days, months, years 
Springs, summers, autumns, winters 
With patience the strength and vigor increases 
 
[Chorus] 
 
The last who were on skis 
- adjusting, adapting 
The first who started working with snowmobiles 
- siidas (village units) reflecting/ answering the fjelds 
Do we really long for the past 
- adjusting, adapting 
When times change, the sacred rocks widen 
- the villages adapting in the new situations 
 
[Verse 2] 
 
Oh we should return to the past 
There was no time to enjoy actually 
To have time to rest you had to be 
Constantly searching for ways to survive 
Now it's much easier, weather the weather 
Snowmobile, engine, ordering a ride 
It's possible to save a life no matter is it 
Storm or still 
Well of course we survive without them 
Or can we anymore 
Do we fend anymore 
Did you sell again, buy again, fly again 
But what about the outside forces 
Denouncing, condemning 
Bringing death, building barrages 
Attacking by day, attacking in the dusk 
Restrictions, regulations 
Laws, poisons, pollution 
Dining space from nearby lands 
And at the same time from distant traditions 
 
[Chorus] 
 
The last who were on skis 
- adjusting, adapting 
The first who started working with snowmobiles 
- siidas (village units) reflecting/ answering the fjelds 
Do we really long for the past 
- adjusting, adapting 
When times change, the sacred rocks widen 
- the villages adapting in the new situations 

 
[Verse 3] 
 
Today’s situation must be taken into account more extensively 
That's what the criticizer forgot 
How is it so difficult to see 
That we only let the nature colour our opinions 
Blind ones trust the individuals 
And the pyramids of power 
When the only functional way is to return the authority to local regimes 
We have the power when we dare 
To fight together against the big devils 
For the sake of life, this is everyone's responsibility 
Our things are governed by nature 
Our things are governed by the reindeer 
We ourselves know how to determine these lands 
Not the one who is separated from nature