Somby – a rocking Sámi band
The Sámi people of Lapland, like the American Indians, are strongly associated with myths and legends, and the mention of their name conjures up stereotypical images of a simple indigenous folk, living in a rudimentary lean-to and always dressed in traditional Sámi costume.
The Lappish rock band Somby are aiming to smash that image. They’re on a mission to bring modern Sámi culture to the wider world.
The Modern Sami Citizen
About 6,000 Sámi people live in Finland, and, outside of reindeer husbandry, their everyday lives are much the same as those of the majority population around them. Regardless of what may have happened a century ago, you will only see traditional Sámi dress on special occasions nowadays.
– Even in Finland people are surprisingly ill informed about the modern Sámi. They ask us whether we have electricity in our homes and how we get to school without a car, chortles Unna, the Somby drummer.
Language makes you a Sámi
Even though many things have changed in Sámi culture over the centuries, the Sámi language continues to thrive stronger than ever – evidenced for example by the fact that the young women of Somby are all studying to be Sámi language teachers.
– We are hearing Sámi more often nowadays, and it’s making a comeback in schools, explains Miira, a singer of the band.
– People are really proud of this achievement.
Although the idea of Sámi music generally suggests joik singing and other ethnic sounds, the members of Somby deliberately chose the medium of modern rock. They are keen to show that Sámi culture is very much alive and kicking outside of dusty ethnographic studies.
– It has been great to see young people getting into our music specifically because we sing in the Sámi language. This has reinforced their cultural identity, says Milla, who plays keyboards and writes lyrics for the band.
A home in the Great Outdoors
The band and its tours have similarly strengthened the identity of the Somby artists and their affection for their homeland, and they are especially drawn to the vividly northern countryside of Vuotso, a Sámi village of fewer than 300 residents.
Unna sums up the feelings of many locals here:
– You get attached to this place. City folk have to go well out of their way to reach a deep forest or unspoiled lake, but here you are surrounded by the countryside and it becomes an essential aspect of everyday life.
The best of the Lapland summer – Somby recommends:
Cloudberries are extraordinarily good for you – they have between twice and four times as much vitamin C as oranges. Berry picking is also a good form of therapy - it gets you out in the woods where you can gain peace of mind.
The ‘nightless night’ is the best time of year, providing the rare and splendid luxury of setting your own circadian rhythm. You might even row your boat out into the lake in the middle of the night if the mood takes you, with no daytime heat to slow you down.
Summers are the time for earmarking reindeer calves, meaning that the Sámi are out in the forest for two weeks straight at the end of June rounding up their animals. This is a vital and much loved tradition.
Sámi culture for tourists
The best way to learn about Sámi culture is to visit Siida, the Sámi Museum in Inari, and to meet these unique people face to face for example on a reindeer safari.