Juneau-based Tlingit artist Arias Hoyle released a music video Friday featuring students from Nanwalek — a predominantly Sugpiaq/Alutiiq village on the southwestern tip of the Kenai Peninsula that is only accessible by air and water.
Hoyle, a hip-hop recording 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 arts center back in 2019, shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He recently produced an album entitled “Last Chance Chilkat” on behalf of the first peoples of Alaska.
“I often combine my Indigenous language, the Tlingit from my people, with rap and hip-hop music,” Hoyle said. “I really like to do projects that are inclusive of Indigenous people, especially around Alaska. And I really like to manifest both my Tlingit side and my African-American side into music. Essentially, I make Afro-Indigenous hip-hop.”
Hoyle performed in Nanwalek three years ago, as the community was experiencing a severe drought. Nanwalek got only a fraction of its normal rainfall, so local officials shut off water for 12 hours every night and the state issued a boil water notice.
Asia Freeman, artistic director at the Bunnell Street Arts Center, said Hoyle asked if he could teach his song “You’re The North Star” through an Artists in Schools program, which places professional artists in K-12 classrooms throughout the Kenai Peninsula School District.
“A few years back, we had brought Arias with the Indigenous Roadshow to Nanwalek, and the village just adored him and basically invited him back,” she said.
Last month, Hoyle and Hanna Craig, a videographer out of 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 locations, and all of these sports that we wanted the students to be a part of,” Hoyle said. “Then we rolled the camera, had them do all types of activities at their school, in the middle of class. And we tried to capture as many as possible.”
Hoyle said they wanted to focus on everyday activities in the village during the week he was there, from kids four-wheeling 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 acknowledge and inspire the youth of small villages.
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 taking an art style that everyone appreciates, and you’re doing your own Indigenous twist on the music,” he said. “And when it comes to me, representing the Black community as much as the Tlingit community, that’s why I chose rap music. I think hip-hop and rap is so expressive, and it’s so fun, yet it still has a lot of representation of who I am. I love to rhyme and I love to sing in my native tongue.”
You can find Hoyle’s music on any of your favorite streaming platforms under the name Air Jazz.