Alexander Rybak – The boy who only wanted to be seen. 10.11.18

Once Alexander Rybak was the one who had to stand by and watch. Now he creates a joik for those who have been bullied and felt left out.

Text to the cover picture: 
RYBAK AND THE VIOLIN: It is well known that Alexander Rybak is a violin champion. Not that known is that he has a desire to make a joik. A joik that will mean something very special. Photo: Johan Mathis Gaup/NRK

Source:, published 10.11.2018. 
Carl-Gøran Larsson and Jan Tore Trysnes. Photo: Bengt Roger Kåven.

English translation by Jorunn Ekre, revision by Anni Jowett

One summer’s day a little light haired six year old boy is testing his new bike. It’s incredibly stylish. He is wearing a bicycle helmet.

He hopes the bike will help him make friends.
Some boys come over. They are obviously impressed with the bike.
They say something to the light haired boy. Something like; “Do you want to play”?
But the boy doesn’t answer. He can’t reply. Because he doesn’t understand what they are saying. The boy has just moved to Norway from Belarus.
The other boys look at him. The boys bike a few rounds around him, and ask more questions. It’s obvious they won’t get an answer from the boy with the cool two-wheeler.
They look at each other. Then they shake their heads and cycle away.
This is how Alexander Rybak remembers his first few days in his new country.
– Then I looked at Mom. She cried. And I cried a bit, too. From that day forwards I decided I was going to learn the new language as soon as possible, tells Rybak.
Practising must begin early: Alexander showed an early interest in music. Here with the guitar in his homeland Belarus. Photo used with permission from Alexander Rybak / private
The now popular artist remembers it was painful not to be able to speak Norwegian. I have felt what it’s like to be on the outside.
Now almost 30 years later he tries an ancient culture-and music tradition. A tradition which for a long time was held outside both church and society. He will create a joik for everyone who has experienced the same thing as him or worse.
How can Alexander manage to create a joik which encourages those who feel left out? To do that he will get assistance and inspiration from someone who is so good at joik that he is a professor in Sami music.

“Like me, like me”

The Alexander Rybak that we know from the stage is a sparkling and smiling artist who gets people going. At home he is more careful. He thinks a lot. It’s obvious that there’s a lot of thinking going on behind his eyes when you ask him questions.
Didn’t feel understood: When Alexander went to elementary school, he felt misunderstood by the other kids and he spent much time alone. In the photo he is on his way to Barratt Due Music Institute where he has got to know like-minded people. Photo: Bengt Roger Kåven/NRK

– It’s said that we always want others to like us. But I don’t believe in that. It’s not much as a person thinking, like me, like me. I rather think that a person walks down the street thinking;   please see me.

He had to work hard to be seen. Without encouragement it wouldn’t be possible.
The first step was to learn Norwegian, which didn’t take him long. Soon he spoke the language fluently.
But it wasn’t easy to find something to talk about with the other kids. When they went practising football, Alexander had his violin practice. He had lots to talk about the violin.
– It was just that not many people wanted to hear about it, tells Rybak.

When you’re passionate about something and want to talk about it, but no one wants to listen, you feel dejected and different. It feels even worse for a child.

Alexander came home crying to his parents. The first grader was distraught. He had already practised the violin for a couple of years, and wanted to willingly share the world of the violin. But the other children wanted to talk about Mini-Jakobsen or other football-and sports heroes.
Violin wasn’t music. Michael Jackson was music.
Taught by dad: Alexander and dad Igor Alexandrovitsj Rybak. Even if Alexander has had many violin teachers during the years it’s his father that gave him the inspiration to continue and become a maestro on the violin. Photo used with permission from Alexander Rybak / private

– So I told my Dad, what’s the point of me going home and practise when no one is interested?

Dad answered: “You just have to trust yourself and trust the music. Instead of trying to prove it, you should just show them what you are doing“.
The little boy with the light hair worked hard. He practised hard all year round. Harder than ever.
The goal was the end of school year concert. He was to show what he was able to do.
In a well-known pose: Alexander Rybak has gone far with his music. Among the prizes and awards he has won are Eurovision Song Contest, Hedda Award and Kjempesjansen. Photo: Bengt Roger Kåven/NRK

It’s probably the most important thing we experience in life.

Eight year old Alexander Rybak is nervous. The important day has arrived. He has spent hours practising the violin. Despite of the nervousness he is quite confident. He knows this.
The end of school year concert can begin.
Alexander is convincing. He plays like a hero. The other kids are impressed, and finally they understand what he has tried to talk to them about.
All of a sudden he is unique in his class. He is seen.
– It was wonderful finally to be heard. It’s probably the most important thing we experience in life. Be seen and understood. But before that, before we are seen and understood, we need inspiration.
He got that inspiration from his dad.
My dad said: You know what, now you need to have patience. Stay calm and trust what you have, that no one else has. You must trust your talent in the violin and the piano.
Alexander thinks he can thank his parents for him being where he’s at today. They encouraged him and made sure he never gave up.
Musical family: Mom Natalia Valentinovna Rybak and Alexander. She is also a musician. His father plays the violin and mother plays the piano. Alexander practised the violin together with mother and father the whole year before the end of the school year. Photo used with permission from Alexander Rybak / private


Also more recently Alexander has practised hard. This time he shall not show how much he can do with something familiar to him, like the violin. He has tried something that is totally unknown to him. Sami joik.
During the second season of “Muitte me”, he wishes to create a joik which will give to others what he got from his parents.
– When I feel down, I hear a song inside of me. This song is a joik. We need an encouragement and I hope this joik will be a small encouragement, says Alexander Rybak.
“Muitte me – Remember me”,  is an entertainment series where six well known artists will learn joik in three days. Together with a mentor they compose a joik to a person close to the artist.
The first artist is Alexander Rybak.
Alexander is a very ambitious person. He has stated he wants to conquer all musical genres. But joik is much more than just a musical genre, and Alexander’s joik mentor struggles a bit to get him on the right track.

Alexander wants to joik you

The person who will help Rybak to open up the world of joik is Frode Fjellheim.
Fjellheim is an authority within both joik and international music.
“You can say that joik is an extension of the language.
– Frode Fjellheim”
– I have to give Alexander as much joik ballast as possible, and allure some expression which is in such a world of joik. What he does with it later, it has to be up to him, says Fjellheim.
The Sami joiker and the Belarussian violinist have got along well. Frode recognises himself in parts of the story of Alexander Rybak.
– Alexander came to Norway and started school. He plays classical music and knows a lot. He feels a bit alone with his knowledge. He doesn’t get recognition by his fellow students. I can certainly find examples of similar things in my own background, says Fjellheim.
In unknown waters: Frode Fjellheim (left) took Alexander Rybak on several trips to give him inspiration to create a joik. Photo: Bengt Roger Kåven/NRK
Anyway, when it comes to music they have quite similar background. Frode Fjellheim also has a background in classical music. He namely studied classical music and the piano, not jazz like many believe.
Frode can also be perceived as a bit careful and a genuinely kind person. While onstage he can explode with energy and get the audience going in the landscape he paints with the music and his deep joik voice.
Rybak and Fjellheim have many friendly conversations about whether what Alexander is creating, is a joik or not.
– This is both beautiful and nice, but it’s not a joik, says Fjellheim to Rybak.
Alexander looks both surprised and maybe a bit frustrated.
Frode demonstrates how a joik should work. He joiks the wolf, a deep and wild joik.
– You have come here with ready-made chords, like when you make pop music. You should take the joik you told me about as a starting point, explains Fjellheim.
Very hard work characterises Alexander. The day is spent practising with Frode. While the night is spent working on the joik and the joik voice.
– Alexander wants to create the ultimate joik which will lift people out of loneliness. It’s a very nice thought, at the same time it gets a bit ambitious, and perhaps that’s why I also try to be a bit strict, says Fjellheim.


Mentor Frode Fjellheim’s four joik criteria
1. You have to think it’s a joik yourself.
2. The use of the voice must be used so that it gives it the character of a joik.
3. Every joik has something to be described through joik. You have to joik something.
4. The joik should have a structure which in fact makes it a joik.

And after having put behind the pop music way of creating a song, Fjellheim thinks Rybak is getting closer.
– Alexander has so much musical knowledge so I’m pretty sure the end result will be genius, but it dictates a bit of work along the way, thinks Fjellheim.
Alexander is excited now.

Excited to see if the message comes through

Soon there’s the premiere of the second season of Muitte me, where he is the main character in the first episode. “Muitte me” is North Sami for “remember me”. And he hasn’t forgotten about the joik.
– I have known about this joik for over a year, and naturally I’m super nervous and very excited to find out how it will be received, not at least if the message will get out.  And it will be extra nice if the people up north will like the music, since it was the wild nature that inspired me, says Rybak.
Joik has a tendency to create great emotions in people. When this year’s winner of Stjernekamp joiked in front of the whole of Norway in prime time TV, many people cried.
Self irony: This Pondus comic strip which makes fun of Rybak’s winning Eurovision song Fairytale has got the best place on Alexander’s wall. Photo: Bengt Roger Kåven/NRK
The same happened when Rybak’s favourite joik singer Jon Henrik Fjällgren won “Talent Sweden”, and without understanding what it was about, the judges shed several tears. What is it with joik that touches so deeply? Perhaps it brings people closer to nature, the real thing in humans.
With his joik Rybak hopes to create emotions, too. The feeling of being seen and to feel a bit better when you’re down.
– I remember I hated seeing kids being bullied, particularly those who were born different. The worst way to be bullied, is to slowly, but steadily get frozen out. I don’t want anyone to experience that, it’s such a horrible feeling, he says.
He himself experienced being treated as an object that was to be studied. They whispered and gossiped behind his back, because he came from a different country, because he played the violin instead of football.
– But God forbid they should say anything to me.  Above all, it’s very confusing to experience that as a child, and then the frustration and depression isn’t far away.
There were good times, too. All those times he got invited by the other kids to play during recess is something Alexander will never forget.
– They weren’t the most popular kids in school, but they were the kindest.
Alexander is now one of the most popular kids in Norway, but he hasn’t forgotten where he comes from. He hasn’t forgotten those that he now wants to give one of the biggest gifts in Sami culture, namely their own joik.
– It’s a very nice song. And you have the right amount of joik and elements of joik that it gets a natural and nice place. You use the joik voice in a way that makes it come from within and I think it works, says joik mentor Frode to Alexander.
Then it must be allowed to ask: Is joik something Alexander Rybak will try again?
– It’s definitely a genre I will listen to a lot in the future. But my next goal must be to get invited on a joik as a violinist, by a big Sami artist. That would be a “dream come true”.
GOOD HARMONY: Two musicians with a classical background, but with very different music expressions. They quickly found the harmony and were inspired by each other. Photo: Johan Mathias Gaup/NRK

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