Songs of snow and the future

The first time I saw Sofia Jannok was at an open air concert as part of the Kulturkalas, a city-wide festival of music, crafts and dance, which I wrote about in a previous post. It was a wonderful performance, though I was too far back from the stage to be able to hear what she was saying. I am glad that I got to hear her recently, as what she has to say it definitely worth hearing.

Sofia Jannok singing

Sofia Jannok singing

Last month she did a free concert at the Värld Kultur Museet (for those of you with no Swedish, yes, it does mean what you think) and my partner, myself, some friends and a mass of others piled onto the steps in the main hall to listen to her. By the time she stepped onto the stage, we were all crammed together, leg to leg, babies on laps and in some cases knees to chins, which somehow suited the intimate feel of the concert. She was dressed quite casually, with a large round brooch festooned with polished discs on her chest, that I had seen once at home when my mum brought out the family jewellry and since then in traditional stores. A chap with a guitar played with her, and aside from a duet, there were only two on the stage. Despite the simplicity, there were many threads to her songs, and many layers beneath them.

Sofia was born in Sweden, and identifies herself as Sami, the indigenous inhabitants of the European countries that hug the arctic circle. They are known as reindeer herders who wander the snowy steppes, continuing the nomadic way of life of their ancestors. From what Sofia said this is basically true, but there is more to it than that, and those of us who live in cities are ignoring the deeper layers to our own detriment. I couldn’t understand the words she sang, but they conjured for me the sound of snow falling, longing, the past and a hope for the future. Sami lands are being plundered for oil and the culture is gradually disappearing. She spoke of watching the movie Avatar and crying the whole time, as the story echoed what was happening to her own culture and lands.

Sofia Jannok mid-yoik

Sofia Jannok mid-yoik

She was passionate, hopeful, angry and had a lovely voice, which I hope I will get to hear again.

A few weeks later we decided to end our weekend with music at a cafe we are fond of. We didn’t know much about what we would expect, other than the somewhat vague hints of Finland, traditional music and the extremely broad ‘world music’ and that the artist was called Aino Kurki. What we saw as we sat down and settled in was a large wooden instrument resting on a stand, somewhere between a harp and a guitar, or the insides of a grand piano. I very much wanted to touch it or try plinging on the strings, but managed to hold myself back. Before long a young woman stepped up behind the instrument and began to play. The music was a mix of blues, samba and something that I’ve never heard and so can’t put a name to it. We sat mesmerised as she played, her hands finding the correct strings with seemingly inhuman precision, knowing against the boards for a beat and constantly twiddling the tuners.

Aino with her kantele

Aino with her kantele

The instrument, Aino explained between songs, was a kantele. Kanteles originated in Finland, and have been around for thousands of years. My research while writing this post revealed that there is a mention of a kantele in the Kalevala, and ancient saga from Finland. After hearing about it’s history, I wanted to play with it even more and even own one myself, half for the fun of trying to make music and half for the pleasure of owning something beautiful and historical.

After the show, she sold CDs (one of which I bought) and spoke to the audience. It seemed as though half of the Finns of Göteborg had gathered in the cafe, listening intently and clapping politely, and talking to her in their clipped and unfamiliar language. I wished that my grandmother had taught me some words of her native language, if only just hello or goodbye, though I suppose I could have asked. Maybe I will when I see her next.
If nothing else it serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t let the past disappear, and there are those who can carry it into the future.

(Photos of Sofia Jannok from:, photo of Aino Kurki from:

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