Mari Boine won her first Norwegian music honour, the Spellemannspris, nearly 30 years ago. Norway’s most well-known Sami musician has since claimed three more and now, over the weekend, the equivalent of Norway’s lifetime achievement award at the nationally televised gala.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s Spellemannspris awards ceremony is the evening of the year when the country’s music industry celebrates itself. The so-called hederspris tops them all, and Boine accepted it by twirling on the stage in full Sami dress and offering a traditional joik.
“Ollu ollu giitu, tusen tusen takk,” Boine said in thanking her peers for the prize that recognizes years of contribution to music and culture. She was met on stage with a long and standing ovation.
“I have lived with and in this music for more than three decades,” Boine continued, switching back to Norwegian, “and for me it’s been like medicine.” She credited her music with changing her from a “shivering leaf” to a “brave artist.”
Boine is already considered a living legend in Norway and among indigenous peoples around the world. Her anger over discrimination against the Sami in Norway, and attempts by state authorities to force them into speaking Norwegian, worshipping and living like Norwegians, ended up inspiring her music. Although her family at home in Karasjok spoke Sami at home, she went to school at a time, in the 1960s, when she and other Sami children were only allowed to speak Norwegian. The Sami language was forbidden.
Boine, born in 1956, began to believe that being Sami was “not good enough,” and a feeling of shame over her own culture and language grew. As she later began to learn more about how Norwegian policies tried to all but wipe out the Sami language and culture over a period of 150 years, though, her shame turned to fury. “I began asking questions,” she told NRK a few years ago. “I felt cheated.”
She found her outlet through music and became a voice for the Sami people. Her lyrics have criticized the former Norwegian state church, Norwegian policies and social attacks on the Sami, and celebrated both Sami culture and the great outdoors where Sami have roamed for centuries. She prevailed, her clear and wide-ranging voice has long been heard, and she’s since won many other prizes, been knighted by the king and sang at the wedding of Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit. They were in the audience when Mari Boine first appeared on the stage of the then-new Norwegian Opera House. Her concerts regularly sell out and she has exported her music abroad.
Boine thanked many people for supporting her, working with her and “bringing out the best” in her. Her Spellemanns prize is considered Norway’s most important in the music business, and has been awarded since 1973.
Around 30 Spellemanns prizes were awarded during the lengthy ceremony. Violinist Vilde Frang won in the classical music category, for example, and the Album of the Year went to Cezinando who won the prize in the “Urban” category as well.
The singer known simply as “Sigrid” (Raabe) won the prize as Newcomer of the Year, while Astrid S was named “Spellemann of the Year.” That prize won praise for finally going to a female vocalist, while critics felt that Norwegian singer Susanne Sundfør had wrongly been overlooked once again. Sundfør, who didn’t attend the prize ceremony, later voiced support for Astrid S on social media with a simple “You go girl! tweet.