Yup’ik Singer, Drummer Performs in WDC

Byron Nicholai in the American Indian Museum in front a a picture of his grandmother. -Photo courtesy of Bryon Nicholai.
Byron Nicholai in the American Indian Museum in front a a picture of his grandmother. -Photo courtesy of Bryon Nicholai.

Yup’ik singer and drummer Byron Nicholai performed in Washington D.C. this past week in front of Secretary of State John Kerry.

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Nicholai, 17, sings in the traditional Yup’ik style with some original variation. Over the last few years he’s been gaining popularity, preforming all over the state. However, he says he was surprised to be asked to preform in the nation’s capitol and at first didn’t realize the significance.

“I thought it wasn’t something big, but when I got there I realized how important it was, and I realized who I was preforming for and I was surprised that they wanted me to preform there,” said Nicholai.

He preformed three songs in the Harry S. Truman building at the State Department: “My Alaska Song”, “I Sing, You Dance”, and a song written by Joe Bill, the which translates to “This Place Here is Happy”.

“I picked the third song because it’s more upbeat and just by watching you could dance with your feet, dance with your head. One of them was kind of following the beat of the drum with his feet, so it was pretty upbeat and it was pretty fun,” said Nicholai.

Byron Nicholai with drum. -Photo courtesy of Byron Nicholai.
Byron Nicholai with drum. -Photo courtesy of Byron Nicholai.

While in D.C., Nicholai had an interesting cultural experience at the Smithsonian.

“I went to the American Indian Museum, the Smithsonian, and saw a picture of my grandmother there, and a few interesting qaspeqs she made, and a video of her dancing. It was a pretty fun trip,” said Nicholai.

Nicholai plans more travel and performances over the summer.