Seventeen-year-old Toksook Bay teen Byron Nicholai released an album recently. His Yup’ik songs have been popular in the YK Delta ever since he started uploading his performances to his Facebook page. Now they’re available on a variety of common online music sites.
Nicholai says he first got the idea to record and sell his songs from the comments on his “I Sing. You Dance.” Facebook page.
“People wanting to buy CDs: ‘Where can I buy a CD?’ ‘Where do you sell your CDs?’ and I told them that I don’t have a CD yet, and then they were saying, ‘Well, you need to make one cause I want to buy one,’” said Nicholai.
Nicholai says the opportunity to professionally record his music arose after he was introduced to Frozen Whitefish band member Mike McIntyre who is also the owner of a new business, Yuk Media.
McIntyre founded the company in June with mission of bringing Yup’ik culture into the mainstream media as a means of preserving the culture for future generations. Nicholai became the first client. McIntyre says their project started under a pressing deadline: the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in mid October.
McIntyre says they discussed business over pizza and were able to record the songs in about five hours. Nicholai recorded some traditional songs passed down from family, friends and teachers; like the song called “Tarvautnauramken,” or “Let me bless you.” It’s a song about performing a blessing to drive away evil spirits or sickness. Another song fans will notice is his signature song called ‘I Am Yup’ik.’
They say the album also features three new songs Nicholai came up with during the recording.
“One of my favorites is ‘Ellu’urtaataunga,’” said McIntyre. “We were sitting there and he starts singing something, and I’m like, ‘What was that?’”
“Yeah I just made that up.” said Nicolai. “Mike’s like we need to put that in the album you should record it and sing it again.”
After that Nicholai freestyled a couple more songs.
While the album is available online they haven’t produced CDs yet but McIntyre says they hope to order a thousand to sell by Christmas.
Nicholai’s performed for Secretary of State John Kerry and other dignitaries at the White House in Washington, D.C., over the summer. But he says now he’s focusing on his schooling. He’s turned down a few requests for performances. He is in his senior year in high school and wants to finish school on time so he can get back to traveling and performing. He a plans on going to college at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He says the location will make it easier to travel for performances. He plans to major in education and minor in Alaska Native studies.
Mike McIntyre started the Yuk Media Company last summer in June, winning the 2015 Best in the West Small Business Competition. He hopes the company will be the route local artists in the YK Delta will take when they want to introduce their work to the mainstream. He plans to record another local artist, Bobby Gregory, in the near future but he says his company will welcome anyone with open arms.