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Eight Seasons by Mari Boine

For the uninitiated, Mari Boine hails from the frozen arctic area of Norway. She is one of the indigenous "Sami" people who inhabit the north of Finland/Sweden/Norway. Like many indigenous peoples, the Sami have been overtaken by European immigrants who sought to civilize them by giving them religion and stamping out their native culture. Boine, once a school teacher, set out to rediscover her forbidden roots and bring back the rich musical traditions of her people. Over the course of seven recordings, she has released an impressive body of work. The Sami music is rich in rhythmic chant and a vocal style called "yoiking." The yoik is akin to an improvised chant the embellishes certain words or vocal sounds. It is often reminiscent of Native American singing, or at times even jazz scat singing.

Her newest effort, Eight Seasons, is her first for the new Jazzland label run by keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft, who also plays on and produced the CD. While Boine might seem a curious choice for a "jazz" label, her music is not that far from what fits into the jazz mold today. Boine has guested on several ECM recordings by saxophonist Jan Gabarek, and he returns the favor by playing on I come From The Other Side. Wesseltoft brings an electronic edge to Boine’s acoustic music. The song opens up with Mari singing over a synth pad, then a heavy drum beat and bass enters. To his credit, Wesseltoft has captured the rhythmic trance of Boine's music without destroying the heritage. Gabarek adds alto sax, weaving his lines around Boine’s voice, which is in the same register. At times it’s almost difficult to tell which is which, as they blend together so well. As a side note, most of the vocals here are sung in Boine’s Sami dialect, which adds to the richness of the music.

Song For The Unborn features vocals in both Sami and English. In keeping with her traditions, most of the lyrics speak of trying to keep tradition alive amid the encroachment of everything modern. "I feel the wind that whispers through my skin melodies of ancient broken dreams," she sings. The song unfolds slowly, with her voice floating on top of a stark backdrop of bass, drums, and a few melodic notes on guitar and flute. The effect is haunting and trance like. The most traditional sounding song is Sarahka’s Wine which sounds much like a Native American chant. Boine sings over acoustic guitar and drums. By The Source Of Aurora B is an ode to her homeland. She sings over an almost drum ‘n bass track. Percussion sounds move in and out of the mix, and the drum loop keeps things hypnotic. Soul Medicine is similar, with electronic percussion and bass mixed with flute and acoustic percussion.

Hymn is a plaintive vocal sung over acoustic guitar. Butterfly, sung in English, is the closest to her past recordings. The percussion and bass set up a simple, driving rhythm; while guitar and flute play on top. Again, the word hypnotic comes to mind. Boine’s yoiking on vocal syllables is not too far removed from jazz scatting. You Never Know is a gentle ballad, opening with guitars and her voice. Drums with brushes and bass are subtly added to fill things out. But the music never intrudes on her voice.

The surprise here is the bluesy Tundra Flower. The song is a slow shuffle played on acoustic guitar. A Native American sounding flute solos on top of things. The song is reminiscent of African guitarist Ali Farka Toure. Let Silver Protect opens slowly with Boine yoiking over ambient sounds. A drum ‘n bass rhythm enters with ethnic percussion on top. The rhythmic chanting fits perfectly with the modern groove. The CD closes with the very simple Give Me A Break which features Boine on both voice and acoustic guitar, and the flute of Carlos Z. Quispe. The gentleness of her voice comes through, sounding reminiscent of folk singer Buffy St. Marie or early Joni Mitchell.

Much like Finnish yoiker Wimme’s collaborations with the electronic duo, Rhinne Radio (check out their three wonderful releases on Northside), producer Wesseltoft has managed to successfully combine Boine’s intimate and personal music with ambient/electronic music. The important thing here is her voice. She is an amazingly gifted singer who not only has power and range, but has the phrasing and interpretation that few singers have. No matter what language she sings in, the music is astounding. Although difficult to find, this CD is highly recommended.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mari Boine
  • CD Title: Eight Seasons
  • Genre: World Music
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: jazzland (Finland import)
  • Musicians: Mari Boine-voice, Bugge Wesseltoft-keyboards, Jan Gabarek-tenor sax, Roger Ludvigsen-guitar, Svein Schultz-bass, Kenneth Ekornes-drums/percussion, Richard Thomas-soprano sax.
  • Rating: Five Stars
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