Unique circumstances breed unique creativity, and few circumstances are as unique as living within a day’s drive from the Arctic Circle. In this case, it is in the northernmost reaches of Finland’s Lapland that we find the quartet Gájanas [translation: Echo] practicing their special combination of progressive rock and the musical traditions of the Sámi. The Sámi are an ethnic group spread out across the most isolated regions in the north of Scandinavia, where they’ve spent over 3,000 years developing culture and art distinct from the rest of Europe.
Gájanas employs one very distinct art form that the Sámi have developed over millennia, a vocal style called ‘joiking’. Heavily improvised and often non-lyrical, joiking is a style of singing that is meant to express ideas and concepts, especially those related to nature, in an abstract musical form. It is not especially often that joiking has intersected with modern music styles, but Gájanas has combined it with progressive rock in a way that seems like it was always meant to be.
Gájanas’ debut album, Čihkkojuvvon [Hidden], came out this past January and it leaves little question as to what this band is all about. The album’s opener, Almmi Dolat [Northern Lights], sonically lays out a sprawling snowscape in front of the listener, with singer Hildá Länsman’s vocals effortlessly transitioning between evocations of mystery and majesty. All these feelings are only heightened as the track introduces more complex instrumentation alongside the album’s first inkling of the intense, throaty sounds of Sámi joiking.
Most of the album builds upon the ideas presented in this first track, some favoring the structures of progressive rock music and others favoring more cinematic atmospheres. These energies are further enhanced by the band’s guitarist Nicholas Francett picking up cello duties on several tracks, playing sweeping melodies that engulf the listener in their vastness.
While the atmosphere and vocal styles present across Čihkkojuvvon are its most obvious hallmarks, credit is due to guitarist Nicholas and his instrumental compatriots, drummer Kevin Francett and bassist Erkki Feodoroff. Their ability to play entire songs based around unconventional rhythmic patterns without drawing attention to their degree of musical complexity is exemplary and especially impressive so early in a recording career. For this reason, I often wished there were more purely instrumental moments on this album.
This feeling was only enhanced when on the track “Geažehis Áhpi [Endless Sea]”, the band has a chance to truly depart from accompanying intricate vocals and highlight their prog-rock chops, emulating the sublime melodicism of such master writers as Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson (an energy enhanced by the presence of a guest soprano saxophone solo).
Overall, Čihkkojuvvon is a very consistent album and Gájanas is a group that I want to hear again. They are a very compelling gateway to the sounds of the Sámi for any rock music fan and ought to be closely followed in the coming years as their career blossoms from beyond the snow-covered expanses of Lapland. Čihkkojuvvon is a manifesto of musical ideas that exhibit great ingenuity and deserve to be revisited and expanded upon.