Attracting an audience of over 10,000 Facebook followers, a Toksook Bay teenager is creating his own version of Yup’ik songs and sharing them with an international audience.
Sixteen-year-old Byron Nicholai created a Facebook page called ‘I Sing. You Dance,’ that recently became very popular in and out of the country after his songs were featured on KTUU.
“They helped me reach up to 10,000, because before KTUU it was only 3,000 (likes), and after that, to 7,000 (likes), then to 10,000. Its crazy for a guy like me in a village to get that many likes,” said Nicholai.
Nicholai has been a drummer in Toksook Bay’s traditional group since 5th grade. He says his video page started when he downloaded an app and started playing around with it.
After he uploaded videos without distortion, his audience told him they prefer his natural voice.
Nicholai hasn’t stopped experimenting with his sound. Nicholai uses a technique in which his voice is augmented by a natural echo off of a drum, a trick he learned from his cousin, Moses Charles.
“One time during a Yuraq practice, he showed me how he did that and I thought it sounded awesome. The phone has to be inside the circle of the drum for you to hear the echo… that’s why I’m kinda so close,” said Nicholai.
Nicholai says his songs aren’t exactly traditional. A Toksook Bay elder, Joseph “Anaruk” Felix, sings with Byron in school and is glad to hear the young man making music projects.
“When I listened to the videos the singing seemed unique to his style and personality, but I like it very much. They don’t have dances attached to them as is our tradition, but it is very entertaining to me. I encourage other people to try this, because it brings us closer to our culture,” said Felix.
Nicholai says he is working on a song that goes with a dance and expects to release it sometime soon. He says he would like to be able to travel to teach about his culture and traditional dancing.
The videos can be found here.