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Homegrown Plus Premiere: Pamyua’s Modern Yup’ik Drumsongs

In this photo of Pamyua, three men leap in the air, dressed in a combination of indigenous Alaskan garb and streetwear. Photo is accompanied by the Homegrown 2022 logo, which includes the words "Library of Congress American Folklife Center Homegrown 2022 Concert Series, "Homegrown at Home."

Pamyua. Photo courtesy of the artists.

We’re excited to continue the Homegrown Plus Premiere series with Pamyua, a trio performing traditional Inuit (Yup’ik) drumsongs from Alaska with a distinct and unique American sound. As is usual for the series, this blog post includes an embedded concert video, an interview video, and a set of related links to explore!

Together for more than 15 years, Pamyua (pronounced Bum yo-ah) has entertained millions with their fusion of traditional Inuit music and Yup’ik dance performance. Founding members Phillip Blanchett, Stephen Blanchett and Ossie Kairaiuak are from the Yukon/ Kuskokwim River Delta region in southwestern Alaska. Pamyua found national recognition in 2003, winning Record of the Year at the Native American Music Awards, and is now considered a cultural treasure across the circumpolar north. Native People magazine praised their “blizzard of interlocking harmonies” and Alaska magazine rated them “one of the 10 greatest Alaska artists of the millennium.” The group has performed at distinguished events worldwide, including the 25th Anniversary of Greenlandic home rule, which was attended by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the grand opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

In this photo of Pamyua, three men stand on a stage wearing Yup'ik clothing.

Pamyua. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Pamyua’s goal is to represent the enduring heritage of Inuit people. Their performances encourage audiences to appreciate indigenous traditions while relating ancient traditional wisdom to modern culture. Pamyua believes that unity is possible though music and dance, and the members interpret Inuit traditions masterfully with joy and sincerity. Pamyua also teaches and performs in schools, continuing their work to communicate interactively, broaden awareness, and inspire unity.

Pamyua’s concert video is presented with support from the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Watch it in the player below!

 

[Transcript of Concert]

In the interview, I talked with Stephen and Phillip Blanchett about their lives and the music of Pamyua. We touched on their own heritage, which includes both Yup’ik and African American ancestors, and how that affected their music. We talked about several of their influences, including their mother, Marie Meade, and the Yup’ik singer, dancer, and storyteller Chuna McIntyre. We discussed some artists who went before them in blending Yup’ik drumsongs with other genres, and talked about their experience including both Alaskan and Greenlandic Inuit peoples in their group. It was a wide-ranging and fascinating conversation, which you can watch in the player below!

 

[Transcript of interview]

After the premiere, you’ll be able to find both these videos with more bibliographic information on the Library of Congress website, with the concert here at this link and the interview at this link. You’ll also find them on YouTube, with the concert at this link, and the interview at this link.

Collection Connections

A person dressed in Yup'ik attire and an ornate mask dances on a stage.

Chuna McIntyre dances as part of his performance with the Nunamta Yup’ik Dancers. AFC photo by Jim Hardin.

If you enjoyed the concert and interview, check out the Collection Connections below. You’ll find links to archival collections, guides, and other materials related to Yup’ik music, Alaska, and Indigenous cultures.

Event Video and Audio

In our interview, Phillip and Stephen mentioned their mother, Marie Meade, who is a humanities professor and tradition bearer. She is a member of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Community Spirit Award from the First Peoples Fund. As the Blanchetts mentioned, their mother was also a member of Chuna McIntyre’s Nunamta Yup’ik Dancers. AFC featured Chuna McIntyre and the Nunamta Yup’ik Dancers in a Homegrown concert of Yup’ik story and song in 2003, before the Library of Congress began recording all of our concerts for online webcasts. However, we do have some photos by Jim Hardin, and one song is online as an audio selection: Chuna McIntyre sings “Yup’ik song about a vision of a sailing ship in 1777.”

AFC also featured Yup’ik culture in 2021, in this concert and interview by Piqsiq, who blend throat singing and electronica.

A linked list of other AFC concert and lecture videos relating to Native American culture is at this link.

Field Collections Online

National Sampler: Selections from Alaska Collections contains field recordings from several AFC collections. It includes interviews and stories with Yup’ik, Aleut, and Tlingit people, as well as Anglo-American and Russian-American voices.

Ancestral Voices is a presentation of field recordings from Indigenous American communities. The project seeks to mutually benefit tribal members and the Library of Congress, utilizing emerging digital technologies and innovative approaches to address issues in preservation, co-curation, cultural representation, and intellectual access.

Omaha Indian Music is AFC’s largest collection of Native American music currently online.

Finding Aids and Guides

As a useful first stop, you can visit our guide, American Folklife Center Collections: Alaska at this link.

Folklife in Your State: Alaska contains a link to a more complete cross-collection guide to Alaska collections at AFC

Three men, three women, and a boy, all in Yup'ik garb, stand on a stage.

Chuna McIntyre and the Nunamta Yup’ik Dancers on stage at the Library of Congress, 2003. The members are Chuna McIntyre, Vernon Chimegalrea, Josephine Aloralrea, Tatiana Andrew, John McIntyre, Agnes McIntyre, and Charlie McIntyre. AFC photo by Jim Hardin.

Articles and Essays

Find the article “Yup’ik Song” from The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America at this link.

At this link, find the article “American Indian and Native Alaskan Song” from the book Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the United States. The online article also contains links to resources on the songs and history of many Indigenous nations.

Folklife Today Blogs

Find all our blogs relating to Native American history and culture at this link.

Thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. For several years, we’ve been presenting the concerts here on the blog with related interviews and links, in the series Homegrown Plus. (Find the whole series here!) For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress. For past concerts, including links to webcasts and other information, visit the Homegrown Concerts Online Archive.

One Comment

  1. Stephanie Work
    June 5, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    Thank you so much! This is a wonderful concert and the interview was great to watch! I am so glad to learn about this music.

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