Another good time with Native funk group Pamyua

Yup'ik-Inuit musicians return to Juneau after a jaunt around the world

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2008

The first time I saw Pamyua they were still teenagers. They came to Juneau in the late 1990s to perform at the Alaska State Legislature, singing and dancing in one of the conference rooms there. I remember them being bright-eyed, enthusiastic and happy, with a lot of confidence and wonder. Men and women stood around in suits and watched with the same kind of wonder. These boys from Bethel brought something many hadn't seen much of - rural, Native, hip musicians.

At that time Pamyua was a three-person a cappella group. Today they are four and mix traditional Yup'ik and Inuit melodies and dances with contemporary rhythms and instruments. Their sound combines funk and rock with the haunting, guttural inflections of the Yup'ik and Greenland Inuit languages.

The next time I saw them was at Camai in Bethel in 2001. The festival brings Eskimo dance groups from all over Alaska - Yup'iks with caribou-hair dance fans and their drumming style that beats on the top of the drum, and Inupiats with white gloves and their style of beating the underside. Camai is a magical event with traditional music, dance, foods and culture from all over the Kuskokwim Delta and beyond, and truly one of the most interesting festivals in Alaska.

Pamyua took the stage at Camai surrounded by friends and relatives and put on another inspired show. Their funky renditions of Yup'ik melodies contrasted with the more traditional songs and dances being performed there, but they were hugely appreciated by the audience. I could see in the elders' eyes the recognition that these young people were the next generation of singers and dancers that would be carrying on the traditions.

Last month, Pamyua returned to Juneau and took the stage at Centennial Hall - this time with a full-on backup band with drums, bass, guitar and keyboards driving their sound.

In the last several years they've produced four CDs, won awards and have made a pretty good name for themselves on the international scene.

Pamyua was here for Ocean Celebration, an event that sought to draw attention to the growing presence of plastics poisoning the ocean.

The show opened with a video about plastics in the ocean and a multiethnic drum group reflecting Filipinio, Polynesian, Tlingit, African and Middle Eastern cultures and Tlingit dancing, followed by series of homages to the health of the ocean, including a talk from ocean research scientist Marcus Eriksen.

Q'orianka Kilcher, an actress, singer and activist who starred as Pocahontas in the movie "The New World," spoke inspiringly about the need for young people to come together and work toward the health of the planet and use their natural "youthful rebellion" to fight against the destructive systems affecting their futures.

Tlingit rappers Northkut Wolf Pack also put on a dynamic show, beginning with Tlingit dancing that segued into a Tlingit rap.

After the show a whole entourage of musicians, dancers and scientists moved to the Hangar where the energy stayed high over conversation and appreciation.

When musicians come together for a shared purpose, it often ends up as something positive, inspiring and long-lasting.

The evening ended with a crowd migrating to KTOO to talk and sing and play on the air for the "The Global Edge" show.

The next day they all got on planes and flew off to new projects and new shows - leaving again the memory of another good time with another good group of people.

We get that a lot in Juneau.

• Teri Tibbett is a freelance writer and musician living in Juneau. Her radio show, "The Global Edge" airs Sunday nights from 10 to midnight on KRNN FM public radio in Juneau.

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