Joik is a long-practiced musical tradition in Sápmi, a largely subarctic region spanning Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. It stems from the indigenous Sámi people's spiritual customs, conjuring images of the world through typically wordless vocables. Once condemned as heretical by local regimes of Christianization, joik today is a symbol of anti-colonial resistance as well as a continuation of tradition. It has also found a place in the popular sphere, located in Eurovision songs, the soundtrack of Disney's Frozen, and the broad Fennoscandian folk music revival scene, where artists like Mari Boine, Wimme Saari, and even metal band Korpiklaani number among a wide range of informal joik ambassadors to the listening world.
Prog rock has a somewhat less ancient history, but it tends to be a mainstay of the Nordics. Hailing from Inari and Utsjoki in the far north of Finland, four-piece band Gájanas (Northern Sámi for "echo") combine both. Already known for winning second place at the Sámi Grand Prix in 2016 and being Kaustinen Folk Festival's band of the year in 2017, they now bring us brilliant full-length debut Čihkkojuvvon. Consisting of Hildá Länsman (daughter of famed joik singer and Sámi activist Ulla Pirttijärvi-Länsman) on vocals, Nicholas Francett on cello and guitar, his brother Kevin Francett on drums, and Erkki Feodoroff on bass, Gájanas are firmly planted in a dynamic present. Länsman alternates between song, joik, and other skillful manipulations of the breath, her arresting voice continually building from lullaby-soft to gale-force atop tightly-bound roots of powerful accompaniment from the rest of the band.
Balance is key to the success of Čihkkojuvvon's sonic explorations. Cosmic opening track "Almmi dolat" makes space for heavy instrumental solos interspersed between Länsman's melismatic tributes to night skies and northern lights. When voice and electric guitar finally meet the song's climactic final minutes after so long weaving around one another, it is fantastically satisfying. Later on, "Hušša sisa" is similarly polarized, with Länsman's wails soaring over dark, driving cello tracks. Fundamental to "Dollagaccat" are strata of droning strings, a steady backdrop to Länsman's rhythmic gasps and near-growls.
Interlude "Bieggagaikkohat" follows, with cymbals brushed into echoes of wind and Länsman's lone voice sublime over legato strings that quickly turn sharp in following single "Diamántadulvvit". "Čihkkojuvvon" and "Geažehis áhpi" draw on incredibly complex melodic structures. The album ends with "Vuolgge muinna" and its buoyant bassline, lifted into upbeat territory with warm sax lines that make an interesting counterpoint to some of the album's most spirited guitar moments.
Prog joik is a fairly novel idea and one that offers a wide range of promising directions. Gájanas are not resting on the fleeting strength of novelty so much as they are taking untrodden paths. The journeys the group traces on Čihkkojuvvon -- a title that appropriately means "hidden" -- are evocative and organic. Gájanas moves through moments of serenity and ferocity with equal purpose, making music with many layers of possible meaning swirling beneath an already vibrant surface of richly textured sound.
Fresh and unyielding, Čihkkojuvvon presents Gájanas as a band both youthful and well-informed by their cultural forebears. It's no secret that joik and rock make for a versatile combination -- look at Jonne Järvelä's career -- but Gájanas are still unique, their skill potent as they create modern Sámi music. Čihkkojuvvon is a strong and vital debut and Gájanas a group to watch closely.