Sámi rapper Ailu Valle wins Finnish state art prize

Hip-hop musician Ailu Valle from Finland’s indigenous Sámi people has won this year’s State Prize for Children’s Culture. (Vesa Toppari / Yle)
An indigenous hip-hop musician and a disability rights activist are among the winners of this year’s state arts prizes.

Hip-hop musician Ailu Valle from Finland’s indigenous Sámi people has won this year’s State Prize for Children’s Culture. That’s the largest of 14 state arts prizes handed out by the Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike).

Valle, 34, raps primarily in his native Northern Sámi language, but also in Finnish and English. Valle is from Kaamasmukka, a small village in Finland’s northernmost municipality, Utsjoki. He now lives in Inari, further south in Finnish Lapland.

Between touring the Nordic countries, Valle has released three solo albums, with the most recent, Viidon sieiddit, released last July.

“Everyone has the right to art in their own language”

Valle becomes the third Sámi artist to win the children’s culture prize, after painter Merja Aletta Ranttila in 1993 and Northern Sámi poet Inger-Mari Aikio four years ago. The award is worth 30,000 euros.

In a statement, Taike noted that “for some young people, rap is their own way of expressing themselves [that] can act as a social awakener in the world of young people or as a vehicle for their own social messages”.

The jury went on to say that Valle represents multiculturalism and “serves as an example for children and young people, inspiring them to make art on their own terms, regardless of their cultural or linguistic background”.

Valle’s work, it said “reinforces the identity of children and young people who speak minority languages: everyone has the right to art in their own language”.

Ailu Valle also worked on the Northern Sámi translations of Frozen II

Disability rights activism in art

This year Taike handed out 14 State Prizes for the arts, with the children’s culture award the heftiest.

The second-largest, the State Prize for Multidisciplinary Art, went to Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen, 45, who “combines disability rights activism with her art in new and creative ways,” the jury said, adding that her “personal works address the structural violence faced by people with disabilities, especially women”.

Wallinheimo-Heimonen’s multidisciplinary work ranges from installations and performances to video and textile art and design.

The other prizes are worth 14,000 euros, with the music awards going to opera singer Camilla Nylund and rock musician Paula Vesala, formerly of the duo PMMP.

Minister of Science and Culture Hanna Kosonen presented the awards at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki on Friday.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Twin Flames hope to use music to revitalize Indigenous languages, storytelling, CBC News

Finland: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway sends song with Sami joik to Eurovision Song Contest, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Indian Agent, the Alaska band reclaiming Indigenous voices, Alaska Dispatch News

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