Pamyua Double Album: A Soundscape of Identity

Pamyua has a new album. The group, made up of three Yup’ik men and one Inuit woman from Greenland have been performing together since the 90s. Their music is based on traditional chants and drum songs. Their new double album “Side A Side B” offers traditional songs on one side mirrored by modern versions on  the other.

Pamyua’s soulful harmonies would not be complete without the voice of Karina Moeller.

“I think what’s specials about this album is that there is a side A and a side B,” Moeller said. “And side A that’s done just with the voices and the drum and this other side we have all kinds of amazing musicians.”

Moeller began performing with Pamyua shortly after it formed, in 1996. “Side A Side B” is their fifth album. Art imitates the artists on this Album – who live in two worlds – celebrating and practicing their Native traditions while embracing and incorporating sounds from the urban, international city in which they live. Moeller’s favorite song on the new album is a Yup’ik song called “Pulling.”

“We’ve been singing that song for years in many different ways. It’s a…when you sing it it’s almost like a prayer,” Moeller said. “The song pulling J’ai oo loq u nu, it means pulling from within.”

The whole double album follows this dualistic pattern; same songs – traditional drums and chant versions on one side, with electric guitar and keyboard on the other.

“Pulling” was passed on to them by the mother of two other members of Pamyua – Steven and Phillip Blanchett – their Yup’ik mother. But, as Steven Blanchett explains, the group is also influenced by the brothers’ African-American father.

“Growing up with my dad listening to R&B records, listening to Stevie Wonder and all these old jazz musicians and gospel music and we mixed that with our traditional,” Blanchett said.

Steven says the song he’s most proud of on the new Album is called Halibut. It is based on a traditional song from the Unnangan people of the Aleutian Islands.

“Unnangan people were formally known as Aleut, the language is Ununguk and their people and called Unnangan,” Blanchett said.

The Song is about Halibut fishing.

“A lot of 60s and 70s style keyboards from like old clavinets. There’s a lot of Hammond organ, b3, leslie and very simple recordings. And when we were mixing it. They key word was the brown sound. We wanted the brown sound. We wanted the brown sound, just kind of retro sepia,” Steven’s brother Phillip said.

Courtesy of Pamyua

Phillip says the group collaborated with around 20 musicians to get those sounds. He says he most relished the opportunity to incorporate horns on the song “Drum I Carry.”

Phillip credits the fourth member of Pamyua for composing several the songs on the album. His name is Ossie Kairaiuik.

He most likes a song he composed, called “Bubblegum.” He got the idea for the song from a kid who was chewing gum in his traditional dance class.

“While we were doing our dance class and he thought he was sneaky but I caught him and he got embarrassed and that’s what I put into the song,” he said.

Pamyua is a Yup’ik word that refers to the tail end of a dance. An alternate meaning is encore; or, do it again. Something listeners will be asking after they hear ‘Side A Side B’.

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Daysha Eaton is the News Director at KBBI in Homer. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.