Pamyua brings old music to new media

With an uninformed glance at any of the posters around town advertising their Performing Arts Center show this fall, one might pass too quick a judgment and think that Pamyua is an Alaska Native dancing group. They are that, but they’re so much more.

 The four members from three different cultural traditions harmonize old stories, songs and identities into a modern media world. The beliefs present in their performance art also fuel their individual efforts outside of Pamyua, in politics, family and education.

Phillip Blanchett, one of Pamyua’s founders, senior journalism major at UAA and his brother Steven, another founder, is a political science graduate.

Karina Moeller, Phillip’s wife, studied dance and theater in Denmark and Los Angeles and plans to go to medical school in Denmark next year.

“In the traditional form, you learn to hunt and learn human and spiritual values. Those are as important in my eyes as getting a Western education in the university,” Moeller said. “You can have a high education, but that doesn’t mean you’re a good person.”

Moeller and Phillip Blanchett, her husband, have just received the newest addition to their family, Ivalu, a younger sister for Tun’hui.

“It’s important to perform for children to see the performance and learn about Native culture. We don’t just perform, we represent ourselves as people and as individuals,” Moeller said in between chatters from her eldest daughter. “Our performance is very diverse. It affects younger Native people that we sing in Yup’ik. They’re like, ‘Maybe it is beautiful and it’s important to learn our language.’”

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Pamyua began with the two brothers tinkering around with some songs they knew from growing up.

“A sound came that they had never heard before,” Moeller said. Phillip and Steven Blanchett are influenced by both their father’s African-American and mother’s Yup’ik heritages. They started Pamyua in the spring of 1995.

“The sound that the brothers discovered was a natural blend of their cultural backgrounds,” Moeller said.

Later that year, University of Alaska Anchorage Native Student Services asked the brothers to perform for a graduation celebration. A few days before that performance, they met a distant cousin Ossie Kairaiuak from California. Kairaiuak knew some traditional songs and dances as well, and decided to perform with the Blanchetts.

Kairaiuak and Steven Blanchett work for the Alaska Native Heritage Center as high school program coordinators.

Today, with the addition of female performer Karina Moeller from Greenland, Pamyua performs all over the United States, Europe, Asia and Greenland.

Moeller said the group learns their songs and dances working with Kicaput, a local dance group led by drummer Ben Snowball, and from the Blanchett’s mother Marie Meade, who travels with Yup’ik performer Chuna McIntyre.

Included in the repertoire, Pamyua has released two CDs, “Mengluni” and “Apallut (Verses),” and is finishing a third album recorded at the Fourth Avenue Theatre. The first album is mostly a capella and the second, recorded in San Francisco, incorporates pop, jazz, funk and world music themes. They have also performed at the opening ceremonies for the Special Olympics.

While Pamyua is very busy spreading beliefs and ideas through its art, the individual members also have visions of preserving their heritages in ways beyond the entertainment realm.