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Pamyua: Drumming with a global perspective

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Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010 7:00 pm | Updated: 1:39 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS - “A rich explosion of culture.” That’s how members of the Alaska Native musical group Pamyua describe their music, and they’re bringing that explosion to Fairbanks this weekend to kick off the 37th annual Festival of Native Arts.

The Anchorage-based foursome takes Inuit harmonies, adds a didgeridoo from the Australian Outback and mixes it with the thunderous roll of an African djembe drum, creating a full-sounding new world groove that deftly melds the Alaska Native and world music scenes.

What started as a dream among brothers Stephen and Phillip Blanchett, both of mixed Yup’ik Indian and African-American descent, quickly grew into a Grammy Award-winning foursome.

Pamyua was officially formed when Ossie Kairaiuak became the third member of the group. Kairaiuak grew up with traditional dancing in Chefornak, Alaska and the then-threesome became known across Alaska as the ambassadors of Yup’ik culture.

In 1996, Greenlandic Inuit singer Karina Moller joined the group, which immediately started performing as a quartet traveling in Europe, Asia and North and South America.

Today, Pamyua’s music is known worldwide, though it’s difficult to classify into just one genre. They’ve created a well-mixed sound that has its own culture — it’s African, it’s Inuit, it’s funky and it’s jazzy, and the group is even known to do a little a cappella.

“We’re mostly influenced by our culture, the Inuit life, but we mix our music with styles from all over the world,” Phillip Blanchett said. “We just call it tribal funk.”

The group has taken the stage in many places during the past decade, having performed at the Grammy Awards and Celebration of American Music Festival, the Free Tibet music festivals and throughout South America.

“To experience the fullness of our sound, you have to see and hear us perform with a variety of styles and arrangements,” Blanchett added.

In 2003, Pamyua won Record of the Year from the Native American Music Awards for its third album, “Caught in the Act.” The group has since released a fourth album, “Drums of the North,” and continues to tour worldwide and throughout Alaska.

This weekend’s show also includes performances by local dancing and drumming groups, Inu’yupiaq and award-winning Native American inter-tribal drum group, Soaring Eagle.

The 37th annual Festival of Native Arts continues March 4-6 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. More information on the festival is available at 474-6889.

Contact staff writer Rebecca George at 459-7504.


What: Pamyua

When: 6 p.m. Saturday,

3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Hering Auditorium

Tickets: $20 in advance, $25 at the door

Info: 474-7181


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