Rapper uses Sámi language to express defiance
By Jaana Laitinen
Inari native Mikkal Morottaja has a low voice. When he begins to sing his rap lyrics, it changes almost into a growl.
"Kolle Aksu, tääl lii puattam veelkij maksu", he growls into the microphone. The Sámi language of the Inari region suits rap music just like a beanie suits the head of a hip-hopper. The lyrics are intense, and they can be understood by only a few hundred people in Finland.
Maybe it is better that way - at least the grannies will not be shocked. The song is about a golden axe and the demon of fire, and even Satan is mentioned in the lyrics a couple of times.
Morottaja, 20, also known as Amoc, is a newcomer in the rap world, who sings in one of the planet's rarest languages.
The Sámi language of the Inari region [Inari is actually the Finnish name for the community; in Sámi it is written Ânar] was already under threat of extinction. It is spoken by only 300-400 people in Inari and in the villages surrounding Lake Inari.
But better times are on the way: children are learning the language in day care, it is used in school, and now it can be listened to even in rap songs.
Amoc just held a concert in Helsinki, and his songs can also be listened to over the Internet.
"Imposing as Hell", the host of the website describes the Kolle Aksu song. "It is shouting and yelling, but not incomprehensible."
"Melancholy, fictitious, and psychedelic" , the Lapland rapper himself maintains.
"Rap is one way to vent your aggressions and pressure. On stage I am Amoc, but I am Mikkal everywhere else."
Morottaja says that he has no actual message, and he is not trying to influence anything - except perhaps to bestow some belief in the language.
"I want to show that the language is good for anything, for example for rapping."
Inari Sámi is Morottaja’s second native language. His father, Matti Morottaja, is a teacher and language activist. His mother hails from Turku.
At home, Mikkal spoke Sámi with his father and Finnish with his mother.
In the matriculation exam at the end of high school, he took the test for Sámi as a second native language.
"The tones of Inari Sámi fit heavy rap well", Morottaja says.
There were certain difficulties in writing the lyrics, however. The vocabulary of the language describes nature in rich, intricate detail, and there are around one hundred words for different types of snow, but a street-savvy youthful vocabulary has not been needed in the fells.
"I had no older friends who would have taught me all the bad words."
In fact, Morottaja needed to invent some words himself. His father Matti also took part in the project. In one Amoc rhyme, the rapper growls njamma, njamma, or "tit, tit", in the voice of someone close to passing out.
The same story depicts Friday-night partying and drinking among friends in Inari Sámi. In the last line of one verse, the rapper proclaims that he has given his listeners a crash course in Sámi.
"Older people have stopped to ask themselves what I said. I have been forced to ponder whether it is appropriate to use those words. On the other hand, I want to stir emotions and discussion."
The good thing about a strange language is that you can say anything, and no one will understand.
"You can use sarcasm as well, you can slam other rappers in secret. When you rap you can express what you happen to feel, even criticise someone’s mother, and you are not supposed to take it seriously."
Amoc, or the Master of Ceremonies from Ânar, had his first concert in Helsinki a couple of years ago. At an event arranged by a poetry society, he performed “rap poetry in Sámi”. There were barely twenty people present.
"I completely forgot the lyrics to one song. I started to speak in pig Latin. The only real word I could recall was shoe. They clapped a lot. It was the only song that drew applause."
Rap evoked strong emotions in Morottaja already in primary school. In junior high school he wrote his first lyrics, and noticed in high school that good rhymes come out of Sámi.
In high school, a group of boys interested in the same type of music got together and formed a band that eventually received the name Guerra Norte, or Northern War.
One of its members, Edorf, won the Finnish championship in rap in 2003. The three-man band Ambassa was also formed from the talented Northern rap group, and it is currently recording its first album.
Amoc is now aiming for a solo career with his feet firmly placed on the ground. At the same time, he will possibly seek to begin studies in either education or radio work.
"I will be happy if I get to record a couple of CDs. I am not that interested in commercialism. Background work interests me more. You could even make money on some songs."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 6.2.2005