Juneau Tlingit artist Arias Hoyle has published a Musical clip Friday featuring students from Nanwalek – a predominantly Sugpiaq/Alutiiq village located on the southwestern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, accessible only by air and sea.
Hoyle, a hip-hop artist known by his stage name Air Jazz, traveled to the community to film the video in September as part of a residency with the Bunnell Street Arts Center in Homer.
Hoyle became involved with the Bunnell in 2019, shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He recently produced an album called “Last Chance Chilkat” on behalf of the First Peoples of Alaska.
“I often combine my native language, my people’s Tlingit, with rap and hip-hop music,” Hoyle said. “I really like doing projects that include indigenous people, especially around Alaska. And I really like to show both my Tlingit side and my African American side in music. Basically, I do Afro-Indigenous hip hop.
Hoyle performed in Nanwalek three years ago, as the community suffered a severe drought. The community received only a fraction of its normal rainfall, so local officials shut off the water for 12 hours each night and the state issued a boil water advisory.
Asia Freeman, artistic director of the Bunnell Street Arts Center, said Hoyle asked if he could teach his song “You’re The North Star” through a Artists in School Programwhich places professional artists in K-12 classrooms throughout the Kenai Peninsula School District.
“A few years ago, we brought Arias with the Aboriginal tour in Nanwalek, and the village adored her and basically invited her to come back,” she said.
Last month, Hoyle and Hanna Craig, a videographer from Anchorage, traveled across Kachemak Bay to capture videos of K-12 students in the small community.
“Day by day, we mapped out all of these places and all of these sports that we wanted students to participate in,” Hoyle said. “Then we rolled the camera, had them do all kinds of activities in their school, in the middle of the classroom. And we tried to capture as much of it as possible.
Hoyle said they wanted to focus on day-to-day activities in the village during the week he was there, from kids riding four wheels and playing basketball to making arts and crafts.
Hoyle said the song and video are dedicated to Nanwalek. His hope for “You’re The North Star” is to recognize and inspire small town youth.
Major efforts to revitalize Indigenous cultures, languages and ways of life have taken root in recent years. Hoyle sees his music as part of that.
“When it comes to music, it’s a more accessible way to revitalize your people, because you’re adopting an artistic style that everyone appreciates and bringing your own native touch to the music,” he said. “And when it comes to me, representing both the black community and the Tlingit community, that’s why I chose rap. I think hip-hop and rap are so expressive and so fun, but they still represent a lot of who I am. I like to rhyme and I like to sing in my mother tongue.
You can find Hoyle’s music on any of your favorite streaming platforms as Air Jazz.