Ever heard of yoiking? The odds are about as high as someone in Helsinki having heard of toyi-toying. But in the days of sushi in Cyrildene, it’s not that outlandish, and in the spirit of the village-ification of the globe, yoiking comes to Grahamstown with Wimme Saari.
Saari is big in Europe, where he has played with artists like BjÃ¶rk, Hector Zazou, Hedningarna, Suzanne Vega and acid-jazz outfit RinneRadio. This year he has been a guest artist on several albums and travelled on the folk festival circuit.
Saari’s sound can be described as a merging of old and new. Human voice and electronic sound come together with the ukelele, banjo, mandolin and bass clarinet. It transports you to a virtual reality sound and other miracles, emanating from deep within Saari’s incredible voice.
Sami music originates from the north-west of Finland, where the haunting sounds of yoik music filled the snowy mountains of ancient Scandinavia. Due to religious fundamentalism, yoiking lost ground, but in some areas this complex art form survived.
In Southern Africa, a form of yoiking is prevalent among Xhosa and Khoisan women, some of whom have worked with Pops Mohamed. The Basotho call it mokorotlo, though accompaniment in this case is essential.
Born in Finland in 1959, Saari did not yoik until 1986 when, working for the Finnish Broadcasting Company, he found some yoik tapes gathering dust. He was surprised to find some of his uncles singing on the tapes. The yoik bug had bitten and Saari was bound for stardom.
His debut album, Wimme, released in 1995, won him the Folk Music Album of the Year award. It became a classic in his homeland and is still selling in Scandinavia and the United States.
Saari is influenced by everything, from the sound of an aeroplane propeller to the wind. “In my home area people say I have created a new style. Young people like it most, but even people in their 50s have come to thank me,” he says.
His song Texas was played on US National Public Radio, and it led to massive interest in his music in the US. Texas is also part of a compilation entitled File Under: Finnish Ambient Techno Chant.
This will not be Saari’s first visit to South Africa. In 1996 he played in Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, but hardly anyone knew he was here. This time he is not to be missed.