Kajsa Balto sings “O Holy Night”—in Sámi!

Imagine if it could be just as natural to put on “O helga natt” in Sámi as in Swedish!

Kajsa Balto

Photo: Terje Pedersen / NTB / POOL
Kajsa Balto will sing ” O Basi Idja”—”O Holy Night” and other Christmas songs with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra next Advent in Sámi—something worth waiting for.

Gitte Johannessen

For the first time, the Opera in Oslo will put on a Christmas concert in Sámi. It will take place during Advent next year.

Kajsa Balto is already looking forward to it. She is the one who will ensure the Christmas atmosphere in Sámi—with the entire Norwegian Radio Orchestra (KORK) as a “band” around her. She will welcome everyone, regardless of whether they are of Sámi origin or not.

“Don’t be afraid to come or to not understand. Joik is often few words and music is music—it is universal and hits us all. I think Christmas music is a “soft” and slightly low-threshold entry, because there are often familiar melodies and you know what is being sung about,” she says.

She adds with a twinkle in her eye, but with great seriousness underlying: “Norwegians listen to Christmas music in Spanish and French and English and Swedish, but I don’t think anyone knows “Silent Night” in Sámi. Why is it like that? After all, we have two languages in Norway, Norwegian and Sámi. There is a multitude of Christmas music, and it is important that Sámi music is also introduced there. It is healthy to have many different voices and perspectives. Imagine if it could eventually become just as natural to put on “O Holy Night” in Sami as in Swedish? [In Norway, “O Holy Night” is commonly perfromed in the Swedish language version of the song, “O helga natt.”]

Is there room?
It was an eye-opener for Kajsa Balto when she was invited to take part in KORK’s Christmas concert in 2021—the one broadcast on NRK, the same year she released her first Christmas record in Sámi.

“Then I realized how big it was. I myself have never been to a Sámi Christmas concert as a child or young person. It feels so good to have someone like KORK on the team, helping to take responsibility as part of society,” she says.

“It should be a matter of course that the Sámi language is included in official holidays. It takes time to create traditions, and Christmas music is something that is strongly tied to tradition for many—such as regular Christmas concerts, a song you always put on at home during Christmas breakfast, things like that. There is room there for this.”

Made a Christmas recording
But it really all started after Kajsa Balto became a mother. Two years ago, she made the Christmas record she missed being able to put on at home—in Sámi, with the title “Sámi juovllat,” or “Sámi Christmas”. She mixed classic Christmas hymns translated into Sami with traditional Sami Christmas carols and her own, newly composed Christmas songs.

She grew up in the middle of Oslo  and only spoke Northern Sámi when she started kindergarten, thanks to a father who insisted she learn it.

“I was sent to kindergarted with a list of words! Then it became more and more Norwegian at school. Sámi became a passive language, and I had to grow up and become a mother myself before I realized that I had to take responsibility and make sure that we did not lose our connection  to grandfather and those who went before him. Then I started taking courses and writing song lyrics in Sámi.

Personal travel
At frist, Kajsa Balto dared to sing in Sámi rather than speak it. In this way,  she felt safe. For her, singing in Sámi became a personal journey, a journey to finding her identity.

“The Sámi identity has always been there, but in the past,  I have been unsure. Now, I’ve realized that there is room for everyone.

Now that Christmas 2023 is upon us, Kajsa Balto has one year to prepare for her Christmas concert with KORK at the Opera House, which will take place on the first Sunday of Advent in 2024.

“Standing in the middle of it is an intense experience,” she says, “but now I know how to do it, and have more energy to be ‘present,’ so I’m really looking forward to it,” says Balto, who continued the KORK collaboration and, among other things, recently released the Christmas single “O Bassi Idja”— “O Holy Night”—with orchestra accompaniment.

Listen to Kajsa Balto’s recording of “O Basi Idja”—”O Holy Night”— with KORK on YouTube.

You can also enjoy Sissel’s version of “O helga natt” in Swedish on YouTube.


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