Yup'ik encore

Six-member Anchorage group to perform free show Saturday at Juneau-Douglas High School

Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2005

There have certainly been recordings of Yup'ik music, and stations such as Bethel's KYUK have broadcast and archived traditional material in an attempt to preserve the western Alaska culture.

But the new release by Anchorage's Pamyua, "Drums of the North," is thought to be the first widely available compact disc of traditional Yup'ik singing and drumming.

The album, recorded with Alaska Native teenagers from the Anchorage School District, includes 19 hunting, blessing and celebration songs from the Yukon-Kuskowkim Delta.

"We're excited to do more of these things," said group member Phillip Blanchett. He and his brother, Stephen, formed the band in 1995. "We've been investing in our own studio equipment and getting more experience producing, so we want to start working on essentially preserving Alaska Native languages and culture through multi-media production and audio CDs."

Pamyua (BUM-yoo-ah), Yup'ik for "encore," has been touring Europe, Asia, North and South America for the last decade with its combination of storytelling, song, dance, drumming, funk, gospel, doo-wop, jazz, world music and digeridoo.

The six-member group will be presented with the 2005 Governor's Art Award next week in Fairbanks. They spent most of August touring through Denmark, Greenland and northern Norway and has four CDs: Mengluni (1998), Verses (2001), Caught in the Act (2003) and Drums of the North (2005). "Caught in the Act" was named record of the year at the 2003 Native American Music Awards in Albuquerque, N.M. "Verses" earned a 2001 Nammy nomination.

Pamyua also recently finished an album in Barrow for the North Slope School District. Over the course of a week, in the school's office building, the group recorded a batch of nursery rhymes with students age 7 to 17. The project was for educational-use only and is not available commercially.

This weekend, Pamyua stops in Juneau for a special free show, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

Two Native dance groups will open the show. The Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Program Dancers - kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Harborview Elementary - will perform the Tlingit national anthem. The Children of All Nations, led by Vicki Soboleff, will dance two songs.

The show is sponsored by the Juneau School District, the University of Alaska Southeast PITAS, the Tlingit and Haida Housing Authority and the Tlingit and Haida Community Council. Pamyua will be teaching a series of workshops Friday at the high school.

If you go Saturday, you may want to show up at least 30 minutes early. About 300 high school students are visiting town for a student council meeting, and many of them may be attending.

Doors open at 6 p.m. The auditorium has a maximum capacity of 974.

"They have a very positive message for healthy living," program coordinator Alberta Jones said. "They're role models for young people, and they're very passionate about their music."

"When we travel outside of Alaska, people are really curious about us and our message, and they're curious about Alaska Native cultures," Blanchett said. "We do a lot of educating in different places.

Phillip and Stephen Blanchett - brothers of Yup'ik Inuit and African-American descent - formed Pamyua as a duo while studying at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1995. They soon recruited their cousin, Ossie Kairaiuak, a native of the Bering Sea village of Chefornak and a well-known drummer and drummaker throughout the state.

In 1996, the trio met Greelandic Inuit singer Karina Moller, who had been pursuing a professional singing career through Denmark, Los Angeles and Greenland. She played with Pamyua and soon became part of the group. She and Phillip are now married with a son.

Pamyua began touring as a mostly acapella quartet, traveling throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas. They first performed in Juneau after they'd been together for less than a year. The group played the Governor's Arts Award banquet in the Governor's Mansion, a show for the state legislature and a couple gigs at Perseverance Theatre.

In concert

Who: Pamyua (BUM-yoo-ah), with The Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Program Dancers and The Children of All Nations.

When, where: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Doors open at 6.

Admission: Free.

Pamyua incorporated digeridoo into the mix in 2000. While recording "Verses" in San Francisco, they met master player Stephen Kent, who sat in on a couple tracks. Returning to Anchorage, they invited Nathan Michalski, the guy who had introduced them to Kent, to join the band.

The digeridoo has no real connection to traditional Yup'ik music, Blanchett said. It's an Australian aboriginal instrument.

"The digeridoo itself is very vocal," Blanchett said. "It's a very earthy sound and very rhythmic, and it really blends well with the style of music that we do, especially with our world music songs or world grooves."

Michalski recently moved to Wisconsin but will join the group for the Juneau show.

This will also be Pamyua's first solo performance with new guitarist Ivan Night, a student of former guitarist Nick Petumenus.

"We're going to be doing some Yup'ik Eskimo dancing, and we're going to be singing a lot of our acapella songs," Blanchett said. "Then we're doing some song with the digeridoo and the guitar, and we're showcasing some new songs."

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