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WHO: Pamyua, a Nordic indigenous band fusing arctic traditional music with world beat rhythms
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Ward Building at Kenai Peninsula College.
HOW: Tickets are $17 for general admission, $15 for students and available at the KPC book store, River City Books in Soldotna and the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.
It would be hard to find more enthusiastic supporters of the Arctic Winter Games than the members of the indigenous rock group Pamyua (pronounced “bam-u-ah”).
The indigenous rock group Pamyua will make an appearance on the Kenai Peninsula for the Arctic Winter Games, a tradition the group started in 1996.
When they take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Ward Building at Kenai Peninsula College to play their funk-infused Yup’ik Inuit and Greenlandic story-songs, it will be their third performance at the Games.
At the band’s first, in 1996, they came to do a show and left with a new member.
“She was representing Greenland and we were representing Alaska, so it was the Games that brought us together,” Pamyua co-founder Stephen Blanchett said of Karina Moller, who has since moved to Alaska and become a permanent member of the group.
Meeting Moller allowed the group to branch out and add traditional Greenlandic songs to its repertoire. Pamyua performs all over the world, but the Arctic Winter Games are special because the Games amount to a festival of northern life and culture.
“You get people from all over the Arctic region. It’s such a diverse group, and they all bring their cultures,” Blanchett said. “It’s really nice to see all the musicians and dancers from all those different cultures. To be a part of that, its definitely a real joy.”
What they will be a part of is the week’s massive cultural and social interchange. Planned events in-clude daily brown bag lunches for storytellers and singers, Native dancing and drumming presentations, swing choir shows, elementary choir shows, dances and movie nights for socializing, cultural workshops, an arts and crafts fair, a fireworks display, and, of course, the pin-trading party. All that is in addition to the cultural contingent performances, which feature acts from nine countries representing the different cultures present at the Games.
Pamyua’s part in that equation is one that often surprises concert-goers. Pamyua started a capella (vocals only), but now uses instruments such as the Australian aboriginal didgeridoo, the African djembe drum, electric bass and electric guitar in their songs. It comes as a shock to newcomers, Blanchett said.
“(The audiences) aren’t expecting ‘Eskimo’ songs to be so upbeat and soulful and funky. I really like performing for people who have no idea what they’re in for,” he said.
The group’s ties to the Arctic Winter Games go further than picking up group members. Phillip Blanchett, Stephen’s brother and band mate, has competed in the Games’ Native games competitions for more than 10 years, and two years ago his enthusiasm for the sports began to spill over onto a celluloid canvas.
“To Play the Games,” a short documentary on Native games filmed at the World Eskimo Indian Olympics two years ago, is Phillip’s first foray into film making. It is only part of what will become a full-length feature called “Games of the North.”
The film, which will run daily at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center during the Games, took the Snowdance Award at the Anchorage International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary Short at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco.
Part of the credit for such success should go to his star, he said. The principal character in the documentary is Palmer’s David Thomas, a 19-year-old Native games pro.
“The real test is each athlete taking it to their personal best and demonstrating the strength and control it takes to do that. David is a perfect example of someone who has done that,” he said.
Phillip will be filming throughout the Games on the peninsula and will then travel with Thomas and his directing partner Johnathon Stanton to competitions in Point Hope, Barrow and Greenland. He hopes to have the project completed by November, but there are a few hurdles left to leap, marketing the project chief among them.
“Games of the North” is partially funded by a telecommunications grant with money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, so there will be a push for PBS stations to pick up the project. The Games will give Phillip a chance to try pick up the funding it will take to reach that goal.
“Hopefully the community can support the project and help us get it made and broadcast on PBS,” he said.
“To Play the Games” is one of many films to be screened during the Kenai International Film Festival at the Visitors and Cultural Center, but Phillip and Stanton will be the only filmmakers present at after a screening for discussion. The pair will be there for the 2 p.m. Sunday showing. For a full list of films and show times for the festival, see What’s Happening on page B-1.
The cultural center will host dozens of events beyond the film festival in the coming week, but one display stands out. At 5 p.m. today, the center will host one of two openings for their own version of the Arctic Winter Games, a comprehensive collection of Games memorabilia. The second opening will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The exhibit features posters, historical and organizational information, photos, flags, T-shirts and, most importantly, pins. Pin trading, according to exhibit designer Paul Gardinier of the Alaska State Museum, is considered “the 21st sport.”
“It became such an active part of the Games, the swapping and trading was really a way for people to get together,” Gardinier said.
Thanks to the efforts of collector and guest curator George Smith, of Washington, D.C., there is a complete collection of pins on display. Gardinier said there is enough information in the exhibit for even the least initiated guest to develop an understating of the biannual circumpolar event.
“I really hope people come away with a sense of the Games,” Gardinier said. “It really is a complete story.”
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