Máze is a town in Norway and home to around 250 year-round residents. Nils Rune Utsi is from Máze. He formed Slincraze with a few friends and it has become a rap group unlike any other. They rap using a language that is nearing extinction. This group of languages is called, “Sami” and Slincraze is doing what it knows best in order to preserve it.
Rapping to save a language
Nils Rune Utsi has been talking to the media, explaining why he believes that rapping could save a nearly extinct language and the traditions of his people. This 22-year old rapper and hip hop aficionado has chosen rap as the medium to express his creative energy. Is there another explanation for his choice to rap in Sami? It feels natural to him, he said, because it is his native language. He also believes that rapping is something that the youth can understand and relate to. Slincraze believes there’s no better way to preserve the Sami tradition.
Not much is known of the Sami people by the world outside of Nordic countries. Not many are even aware that famous Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Renee Zellweger has Sami blood on her Norwegian mother’s side.
The Sami (also “Sámi” or “Saami”) are indigenous to the Sápmi area within the Arctic region. They are the most northerly located indigenous peoples of Europe and are protected by international conventions. Their ancestral territories include parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia’s Kola Peninsula. The Sami speak group of Sami languages and pursued reindeer herding, fur trapping, and coastal fishing. In some Nordic countries, only the Sami people have the legal right to herd reindeer. Though majority now live in cities, there are still many who live in villages in the high Arctic.
Keeping the language alive
The Sami languages are still used in daily life. Children can still watch television shows in Sami. Short news bulletins are also broadcasted on national TV in Finland, Norway, and Sweden and there are radio programs presented in Sami as well. A few magazines and one newspaper are still in circulation in Northern Sami, one of the Sami languages. Books of poems and novels are also published annually. Sami authors have translated dramatic plays from other languages to their own and these are shown in one Sami theaters in Norway and another one in Sweden.
Sami is used as the first language in some basic education institutions in the Nordic countries. Kautokeino, a village in Norway has Sami University College and the University of Tromsø considers Sami and mother tongue and it is studied there as well.
As new generations of Sami children are sent to schools outside of their communities, their culture and traditions, as well as their way of life are at the risk of being forgotten and neglected. At this time, only around 20,000 out of the seven or so billion people on the planet speak the language.
Linguists may not yet have studied the efficacy of rapping a way of preserving languages, but Nils Rune Utsi and his friends might not be far off the mark. Besides, these young Sami hip hop artists are not the first to try to resurrect their language using rap music. Native American rappers in the United States are doing the same. Aboriginal rappers from Australia are using music not just to preserve their own language, but to put their causes forward.