New album from Yup’ik artist Byron Nicholai is a mix of emotions and genres

Byron Nicholai sings and drums on the 2016 Cama-i Dance Festival in Bethel. (Laura Kraegel/KNOM)

Alaska Native singer-songwriter Byron Nicholai has a brand new album out. “Ayagnera” was launched on March 25. Two days later, it ranked among the many prime 10 new albums within the worldwide style on iTunes.

Back in 2016, Nicholai was dubbed “the Justin Bieber of Alaska” a yr after he launched his first album, “I am Yup’ik.”

Nicholai has since moved to Anchorage from his house in Toksook Bay, a Bering Sea coastal village on Nelson Island. He works with a producer remotely.

“One of the main reasons I moved from Toksook [Bay] to Anchorage is so I could get faster internet,” he mentioned. “I feel like it would mess with my momentum a little bit, ’cause sometimes I’d be excited to work on a track, but then having internet problems would just kind of wash that away.”

The cowl of “Ayagnera,” Byron Nicholai’s new album.

It took Nicholai greater than two years to put down the 13 new tracks for “Ayagnera.” He recorded it fully in his Anchorage bed room. The album has garnered worldwide consideration from Rolling Stone India’s web site, which lately featured the album alongside 4 others by younger world artists.

The songs are virtually fully in Yugtun, the Indigenous language Nicholai grew up talking. He additionally makes use of conventional Yup’ik music for inspiration.

“I’ve always grown up drumming and dancing,” Nicholai mentioned. “And just the song behind the drum, where it’s just that one singular beat, you can transfer that into a whole different song just as long as you keep that rhythm. And having that one single rhythm while we are yuraqing and dancing helps in creating these songs.”

Music is Nicholai’s approach of holding his Alaska Native language alive, and he mentioned it’s additionally an experiment in modernizing conventional Yup’ik music and dance. He mentioned that a lot of the album includes a mixture of feelings. He sings about his personal struggles, the struggles of others, and about his household. The genres he makes use of to specific his emotions within the songs are simply as combined as his feelings.

“Throughout the time that I was making it, I would record a song depending on how I was feeling at that moment,” Nicholai mentioned. “I’ve got a few rap songs in there, I’ve got a couple R&B songs. I’ve got songs in there that sound like pop, and I’ve got a song in there that sounds like electronic dance music.”

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