Fourteen musical acts will participate in an international Indigenous music festival based in Juneau. Alaska Native musicians will join several others in the virtual festival called Rock Aak’w. KNBA’s Tripp Crouse talks with one of the festival organizers Qacung Stephen Blanchett about putting together the lineup.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Tripp Crouse: Can you give a synopsis of what you’re doing now, but also maybe how you got there?
Qacung Stephen Blanchett: Yeah, sure. I’m one of the members of Pamyua. We’ve been performing almost 30 years now. We’re coming up on 30 years together. One of the things that we’ve really got to realize and notice is that there’s few opportunities for Indigenous artists. We’ve performed at music festivals all around the world, and now a lot of these festivals we’re often put off to the side, right? “Oh, the Indigenous or the world music group will have their own kind of stage off to the corner of the festival.” And that was typically the norm. It was rare that we actually performed on the main stages. And one of the things that we’ve always talked about was the need to just create our own because there aren’t those festivals that really engage with Indigenous artists.
Tripp Crouse: It’s being billed as being virtual, but also you’re bringing people into Juneau to actually film stuff for it. So can you talk a little bit about what the make-up is for you?
Qacung Stephen Blanchett: We felt like there was an opening there. Like, things were changing a little bit in July and we had made the decision, OK, let’s do this. It looks like things are changing; the numbers are going down; people are getting vaccined-up and we were all vaccined-up. And so we made the decision to say that we’re going to have an in-person festival. So we went ahead and connected with the folks and bought the tickets and all that. But then as we all know the Delta variant came in and kind of changed things. So we made the decision to go fully virtual, but we had all these tickets bought.
Qacung Stephen Blanchett: We worked up a system where we’re having all these amazing artists flying and we have 10 groups that will be in-person here in Juneau. And we have them scheduled out throughout the day and we have all the virtual hosts. We have 14 different hosts that will be introduced introducing the 14 different bands.
Tripp Crouse: The lineup is a little bit of a mix of Alaskan artists. So there’s Pamyua, there’s Arias Hoyle/AirJazz, Witty Youngman, Byron Nicholai. But then there’s also like a really nice international flavor.
Qacung Stephen Blanchett: Yeah, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Pura Fé, Supeman, Albino Mbie, Pantayo. One of the things about the festival is that when we look at it in a way of bringing Indigenous peoples together and really doing this intentionally. So we’re opening it up with some protocol from the Aaní here, from the land here of the Áak’w Kwáan, the Aak’w is the name of the Tribe that is from Juneau. And there’s Taku as well. But the Áak’w Kwáan is the folks that will be kind of the main drivers and putting in protocol.
But we also have the vision and the mindset of like those cultures and peoples around the world that many people wouldn’t think of as Indigenous, but those places that have been fighting for their languages, fighting for the traditions and have been colonized, those are people that we’re also going to be inviting. So we have Pantayo, who is an all-female Filipino group who don’t identify as Indigenous, but also but they have their traditions that they’re fighting for and have been influenced by outside colonizers, right? So they really appreciate that we’re doing something like this that brings to light those things that happen around the world.
Tripp Crouse: It’s been a really interesting conversation the last few years, seeing that conversation that we’ve been talking about for decades, generations, finally, a global consciousness. But I like to be able to see some of the creativity that comes out of that has been really interesting.
Qacung Stephen Blanchett: Yeah, it’s a beautiful time that we’re in right now. I mean, not just a consciousness and us coming together in the world, right? This world really getting smaller, right? We’re just connecting in many, many ways and more ways. But you know, there’s also this explosion of Indigenous pop culture that’s happening right now. We’re in the midst of something that’s happening. In my 30-year career, this is … it feels different. You know, it really does. You know, we have one of our artists, Ya-Tseen, Yeil Ya-Tseen. He created this beautiful mega installation “Indian Land,” you know? And you know, that thing blew up viral on social media. And it’s — I mean, there’s been so many things happening around that — that space, and it’s just beautiful to just to take that land back, right? And that acknowledgment of Indigenous land.
Quannah Chasinghorse, she was at the Met Gala and, you know, she blew up. I mean, she is like a supermodel now. I mean, you have Sterlin Harjo with “Rez Dogs.” This is … it really feels like there’s just this shift in the consciousness and the recognition of Indigenous peoples. And like, you know, that’s if that’s not this like Hollywood vision of who we are, but we are doing this and we’re on the stage and it’s happening. And it really feels different. And I’m super excited that Rock Aak’w is part of that work.
Tripp Crouse: Where can folks find more information about Rock Aak’w?
Qacung Stephen Blanchett: Oh, it’s definitely on our social media. There’s definitely buzz going on, but it’s Rock Aak’w. And the website is rockaakwfestival.com.