Pamyua's "tribal roots" sound comes from traditional Inuit harmonies accompanied by the Australian didgeridoo and African djembre drum with rhythms ranging from traditional Yup'ik to jazz and gospel. The Anchorage-based group's headlining performance at Ocean Celebration will be the first time they've performed with a full rhythm section of drums, bass, guitar and piano.
Pamyua, which means "encore" in Yup'ik, was founded more than a decade ago by Stephen and Phillip Blanchett, who are of Yup'ik Inuit and African-American descent. The Blanchett brothers learned traditional songs and dances from their mother, who traveled around the world with a Yup'ik traditional group.
"As we started getting older, we started getting involved in other Native community events... and got inspired by other Native Alaskan cultural dancing and Native games," Blanchett said. "We took some of the familiar songs that we knew, cultural songs, and sort of accidentally started singing them with a different type of vocal styling and rhythms."
The brothers were later joined by Ossie Kairaiuak, who learned traditional Yup'ik dancing growing up in Chefornak, Alaska, and Karina M?ller, a Greenlandic Inuit singer. The group played with a number of different musicians and tried mixing in all kinds of different rhythms, instruments and percussion. Their "world music" blend has been a hit with audiences around the world.
"We're using our mix to take our (traditional) songs so people can appreciate them," Blanchett said. "They get a chance to appreciate Native Alaskan music in a new way."
The group's album "Caught in the Act" won Record of the Year at the 2003 Native American Music Awards.
Now Pamyua is returning to where they began, with greater emphasis on traditional Inuit culture and a capella singing.
"(Now we have) more an emphasis on cultural singing and the Yup'ik dancing, which is what we were noted for at the very beginning," Blanchett said.
Blanchett said that Pamyua represents different things to different listeners, but their "diverse mix of ideas and culture" all come back to traditional Yup'ik lifestyle and connection to the environment. He thinks the ideas and traditions that underlie Pamyua's music will resonate with a celebration of the world's oceans.
"Our traditional songs... are all connected to the lifestyle that we lead, in our relationship to our environment. A lot of it is understanding and respecting the natural environment that we're part of. It's an underlying theme that people can borrow from and appreciate."
Pamyua is excited to be returning to Juneau, where they played their first traveling gig in 1996.
"Every time we've gone to Juneau we've had ... not too much fun, but almost," Blanchett said. "In Alaska, it's one of our favorite places to go. We want to continue this."
Pamyua will perform at the Ocean Celebration Sept. 21 at 5 p.m. at Centennial Hall. Tickets are $25 general admission and $20 for students and seniors and are available at Hearthside Books.