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Inuit-soul music group Pamyua brings yuraq and song to Dillingham on Saturday

Courtesy of Pamyua.

The band will perform at the Dillingham High School gym on Saturday. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Ahead of the concert, musicians Phillip and Qacung Blanchett spoke with KDLG about what to look forward — and what they’re listening to right now.

The event was organized by the Dillingham Arts Council, the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, Beaver Creek Bed and Breakfast and the Dillingham City School District.

Tickets are $5 for students and seniors, $10 for adults, and $15 for families. Alaska Native youth who are members of any tribe can attend for free, made possible by a donation from the Curyung Tribal Council. Cash only for ticket payments.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

Phillip Blanchett: Good morning, hello, my name is Philip Blanchett. And I'm with Pamyua and excited to come to Dillingham and perform this weekend.

Qacung Blanchett: And good morning, everybody. Hello, everyone. This is Qacung. Super happy, super excited to go to Dillingham. It's been a long time and it's one of my favorite places that we've traveled to in Alaska. So this is going to be a great weekend for us.

Members of Pamyua perform Squirrel Trap at KDLG's studio. Sept. 23, 2022.

Izzy Ross: Thank you both so much for being here. I guess we'll just dive right in. What can people expect at the event this Saturday in Dillingham?

Phillip: Like Steve said, we've had such great times in Dillingham in the past. I think it's probably one of the communities we've traveled to the most in Alaska over the years — at Beaver Round Up and performing in the community. And it's always such a great like homecoming, even though we're not from Dillingham you know, it's Yup'ik territory. And we're inspired by the love and the relationship that we have with the people and amplifying traditions, Yupik traditions, and old school traditions, together with the community is always a big celebration for us in Dillingham. So we're definitely expecting a lot of excitement, positive energy, smiling faces, laughter, dancing. And we're going to bring a couple of our musician friends that we've been working with for many years, so us as a group, we're going to be having a great time playing together, and sharing that experience with everybody. So it's just a lot of fun, basically.

Izzy: Pamyua's music is so prolific in Alaska. I know you've talked many times over the years about the roots of your music and the beginnings of the group. But for those who aren't familiar, can you explain how you all became a band and what you're pursuing through your music?

Qacung: Yeah, I think kind of the roots of our music is really about the love that we have for Yuraq — that's our dance practice. That has been the foundation from the beginning. All of us, as the core — being myself, Kilirnguq
and Ossie [Kairaiuak] — we have this love for our dancing, and it really is a huge part of what people will see as well in the show. But that foundation and that knowledge that we have with the stories from back home, and the beautiful compositions that we have been able to share over the years — compositions by prolific music makers like John Pingayak and Teddy Sundown and Cecilia Foxy, and Ossie, Kilirnguq, myself. These really beautiful interpretations of our old ancient stories, but putting them in a different light, in a more contemporary soundscape that's derived from these old traditional stories. So that's a huge part of it.

Then what are the driving forces that we have for that. Just kind of sets us in a direction that we're always trying to seek new ways of interpreting our stories, even with the masks. The masks that we utilize in our show, that's something that they'll be seeing as well. The masks were one of those parts of dance that really went very quickly when dancing was was banned, and was suppressed by missionaries. The masks was one of those elements of the dance that quickly went away. And that hasn't really come back in the way that it was. Dancing has had this renaissance to all around the state, but mask dancing, not so much. So we're really fortunate to work with amazing master makers — mask makers like Drew Michael — that have that understanding of — they make masks kind of like how we make music. Just pushing the boundaries of what tradition is.

KDLG's Izzy Ross spoke to a few members of Pamyua the day before the concert. Sept. 23, 2022.

Izzy: Obviously this past week has been very difficult for many communities in western Alaska, especially along the coast. Dillingham wasn't hit by the storm, but I would still like to hear your thoughts on the role of music and the role of this kind of performance in the aftermath of difficult events like what we saw over the weekend with the storm.

Phillip: From my perspective, our traditions have been there forever, and they're so rich and varied as far as the impact that has for our communities and for our people. And it's a really powerful way of healing through our intention of prayers. Also just sharing those emotions of laughter and teasing when we're going through hardship. And traditionally, the songs that we do — it's not just entertainment. These are songs that are directly related to our environment, and directly related to the role that we have, that we get to share. We get to share this world. And it's about honoring that in the ways that our ancestors have been doing and enjoying. Doing that today, it makes so much sense and it's so powerful. That's why it's such an honor for us to share and with this tradition, because our ancestors knew what they were doing. They had a great form of sharing our stories, our philosophy, our love for our community, and our awareness for the environment. And at this time where we're experiencing such great changes and dramatic events and really serious times of loss and trauma, this is a perfect time for us to share those things within our culture that uplift and search for a better way of living in balance. And we can still do that.

Izzy: I do look forward to talking again once you're in Dillingham. But final question: Could you both share a favorite song or a song that is something that you are listening to at the moment that you're really enjoying?

Qacung: That's a good one. I guess for me, I am really into... gosh, Indigenous hip hop right now. Like hip hop, you know, rap, is a genre of music that I love and I listen to and then I step away from, as well. And I stepped away from hip hop for a while, almost since the 90s, right? Since that prolific time of hip hop and the golden age of it. And so I had this love with that music, so in more recent times I haven't really connected with it so much. But I've really been connecting with artists like Def-i who's a Diné
hip hop artist. He just came out with the new album, and I've just been really following him. And there's several Indigenous hip hop artists and groups that are just really killing it right now, like Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Supaman. But I'm really connected with this Diné artist Def-i. Definitely, listeners, check him out. It might even spring you back to hip hop.

Phillip: While Qacung was talking, I was looking at my iPhone. And there's two things. One, my four year old this morning wanted to listen to "Be Prepared" from Lion King. So that's the latest thing on my phone is "Be Prepared" from the live-action Lion King, which is intense and dope. But it's funny that you mentioned hip hop — I've been listening to Kendrick Lamar a lot lately and was just inspired by how he, in his latest album, shares really strong emotional courage. Sharing vulnerable messages that are not so common in that form of storytelling or in pop music, and talking about sexual abuse and about kind of defying cultural stigmas that we think exemplify who we are and our identity, but breaking some of those barriers and really kind of pushing that. I'm really liking the heart part size. I mean, I was trying to pick a song, but that's a good one. So Kendrick Lamar.

Izzy: Wow, there's so much going on that I really want to talk about. Specifically "Be Prepared" from the Lion King is a really intense song. We won't go there right now. But that's really cool. Thank you both so much, quyana, for taking some time to talk today. Really looking forward to the concert and safe travels.

Find out more on the band's website.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.