Songs in Secrecy
Building a bridge between cultures
Åsa Simma was born and grew up in Swedish Lappland, and her Saami identity is crucial to her work. She was educated in Sweden, Denmark and Finland and has worked in Scandinavia, Canada, the U.S., Russia and Japan. In 2000 she was awarded the Håbets prize, and in 2001 became Artistic Director for Saami Theatre. Åsa is currently working at Intercult as Associate Producer!!
In the 70’s and 80’s many feminist groups campaigned for women’s rights under the banner “The personal is political”. For Åsa Simma the personal is not only political but also theatrical. For Åsa Simma the personal is Saami culture and identity, and her work as an actress, singer and director serves as a medium to bring that culture to the wider world.
Åsa grew up in the 60’s – a time when it was officially forbidden for Saamis to ‘jojka’ ( to sing/chant in the Saami language). But Åsa’s mother taught her secretly. Her skill was discovered by poet and musician Nils Aslak Vlkeapää who took her on a tour with other “jojkande” children. It was Åsa’s first taste of treading the boards and marked the beginning of her ongoing love affair with theatre.
Having completed her statutory education in Sweden Åsa studied acting at Tukak Theatre in Denmark, and later also studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. She quickly became involved with a Saami theatre group and has worked in performing arts ever since, using her skills to both promote and explore developments in Saami culture.
Åsa’a approach to performance is to combine the traditions of her culture with her theatre training and modern media. The content of her work deals with both the day-to-day and the spiritual. She is particularly concerned with how Saami women, “as important bearers of culture within the Saami world, can reach out and receive essential support from Swedish society as a whole.”
In addition Åsa has found that contact with representatives from other “ethnic” cultures – in particular Native Americans – has given her a deeper understanding of her own roots and a greater capacity to explore and celebrate them via the performing arts. The following examples of her work illustrate her approach:
Carving Time 1994 Nordic Poetry Festival New York.
The jojk tradition as explained by Åsa – *“If I see the beauty of a mountain, that creates the song inside me and I make a song of that strong feeling I have for the mountain. I am just a tool that’s letting this melody come out. This melody is born through me.”
In Carving Time Saami poet Nils Aslak Valkeapää “jojked” while Åsa’s former husband Native American Norman Charles performed rituals from his own culture linked with the marking of time passing. Between these pieces Nils read his poems in Saami and Åsa read the English translations.
The Sacrificial Stone (film 1996)
*“I feel very strongly that... the feeling of home, the feeling of where I belong, is inside me and with me, wherever I am.”
The Sacrificial Stone deals with a forgotten story which nevertheless lives on - a common thread in women’s history. An old Saami woman takes a walk through the countryside – in itself a holy place – to a sacrificial stone where time has stood still.
Our Grandmothers’ Song. Stockholm.
*“I only speak Saami with my children. I feel it is important for them to learn all the details of our culture, because that’s a richness to carry.”
On the stage are three tightly stretched skins which serve as drums and film screens. Using both anthropological film clips and her own voice to imitate animal calls and to jojka Åsa creates a tragic-comic portrait of a typical day in Saami life.
Project 2000 Helsinki – Europe’s cultural capital
*“I’m rich. I’m very rich. Because I have dreams and I have inspiration.”
Helsinki as Europe’s cultural capital coincided with its 450th anniversary as a city. Three years earlier Åsa, Norman Charles and director Ida-Lotta Backman began planning a unique project around theatre’s roots, a project which has involved artists from as far afield as Tibet. As a theme it was decided to take the old Saami and Finnish calendar, and invite guests to perform on a number of the special days from that calendar.
Åsa began with the spring solstice – the struggle between light and dark – that which is to come, which is presently unborn. Åsa arranged a concert dedicated to those who bring new life within them. The choir consisted of 10 pregnant women.
In 2001, after becoming artistic director for Saami theatre, Åsa worked for 7 months in Hollywood. She acted as advisor for a Norwegian information film on Saami culture. Hollywood did not impress her, however.
“I’ll never return to Hollywood” she said in an interview with Katarina Hällgren, “it’s a strange factory”.
But Hollywood did manage to inspire her after all. Åsa has also led a unique film project in Karasjok. A room is to be built in which the latest 3D technology will be installed in order to display Saami culture. In a half hour programme, for which Åsa has written the manuscript, packed with episodes from the Saami world, the audience can experience a snapshot of Saami life.
In 2000 Åsa Simma was awarded the prestigious Håbets prize. On accepting the award she commented
“The Håbet’s prize hasn’t only been awarded to me. It’s an award for the entire Saami folk. This prize goes also to all my friends, the bears and the mountains…”
In the jojk tradition Åsa claims that she is the tool which lets the performance come out. The writer is Saami culture.
*Quotes from “Åsa Simma Speaks” film soundtrack. Stockholm.
Author: Julie Lerpeniere edited by Annika Salomonsson
Åsa Simma was born in 1963. She speaks Saami, Swedish, Finnish and English as well as Danish and Norweigan. Simma masters the art of singing traditional Sami "jojks". Åsa Simma trained as an actor at the Tupak Theatre School in Denmark and has studied singing at the Sibelius Academy in Finland. She has taken courses in experimental voice training,"jojk" singing. Simma has also studied voice and song with Mirka Yemendzakis in Greece and Sainkho Namchylak in Mongolia.
White Sand White Snow
Production / Performance,
A production of Intercult (Stockholm), performed on Intercult´s stage The Annex.
White Sand White Snow is a performance for children, featuring intercultural art expression and engaged with environmental issues.
Three Culturebase artists take part in the performance:
Åsa Simma; Mamadou Sene - actor, musician and singer living in Sweden, originally from Senegal; Nils Personne - Swedish musician and composer (member of the klezmer music band Sabbath Hela Veckan).
White Sand White Snow blends theatre (in Swedish), singing, music performed on intstruments from all over the world, as well as shadow theatre.
The performance is directed by American-Swedish Edward Buffalo Bromberg.
SEAS Balticum-Adriatico 2003-2005
Production / Performance,
Åsa Simma is associate producer at Intercult. She co-ordinates the pan-European project SEAS internationally.
2002, 1995,& 1987 Received official Grant from Swedish Arts Council
2001 Culture Prize of NSD
2000 Håpets Prize , Denmark
1997 Rubus Articus -Culture Grant
1996 Skum Award
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
(26 April 04 - 26 September 04)