Sound Relations: A History of Music, Media, and Indigenous Self-Determination in Alaska

Jessica Perea
Native American Studies
UC Davis

By the mid-twentieth century, American popular music was heard on record players and through the airwaves across Alaska. This was music that reflected the “lower 48” home states and the lifestyles of the church missionaries and military personnel charged with developing and modernizing America’s “Last Frontier.” Of course many Alaska Native musicians also enjoyed the American styles and repertoire, and continue to do so today. Significantly, by engaging in performance of those musics, Alaska Native musicians broadcast musical, racial, and geo-temporal mixtures in ways that make audible emerging forms of Indigenous modernity rooted in historical practices of sound making, hearing, and listening.

Sound Relations: Frontiers of Indigenous Modernity and American Music in Alaska privileges music and sound as means of understanding colonial encounters and Indigenous modernities. This book explores the challenges and opportunities of racial difference and regimes of recognition in modern, post-statehood Alaska (1959 – present) through in-depth analyses of the cultural production of Alaska Native musicians who employ a range of cultural influences and musical genres, from Christian hymnody and revitalized drum-songs traditions to “Tribal Funk” and “Eskimo Flow” hip hop. Sound Relations breaks down stereotypical understandings of “Eskimos” by offering a nuanced understanding of who Alaska Native musicians are, the lives they lead, and the meanings they ascribe to their music, specifically by addressing the following questions: What exactly is “Native” about Native musical modernities? What does it mean to sound Native? Who decides what does or does not sound Native? And how can in-depth analyses of Native musical modernities reframe larger debates of racial difference, power, and representation in twenty-first century America?