Samantha Crain, of the Choctaw Nation, sings to the crowd during a performance Thursday night as part of the Áak’w Rock music festival at Centennial Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Samantha Crain, of the Choctaw Nation, sings to the crowd during a performance Thursday night as part of the Áak’w Rock music festival at Centennial Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

‘It’s pure resiliency’: Áak’w Rock kicks off

The three-day Indigenous music festival attracts full crowds during its first night.

Though Juneau might be far from home for Mozambique musician Albino Mbie, there’s something familiar about this place.

“The thing about music is when it really hits you is when it comes from the heart,” he said. “This feels like home because my heart is here.”

Albino Mbie, a musician from Mozambique, sings to the crowd during a performance Thursday night as part of the Áak’w Rock music festival at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Albino Mbie, a musician from Mozambique, sings to the crowd during a performance Thursday night as part of the Áak’w Rock music festival at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Mbie was one of the eight Indigenous musicians to perform Thursday night to kick off the Áak’w Rock Indigenous music festival’s first in-person debut since it began virtually two years ago. This year the festival invited more than 70 Indigenous performers from across the state, the country and the world to partake in what organizers say is the only Indigenous music festival in the country.

For Mbie, he said being surrounded by other Indigenous artists in a community that celebrates its culture is what he’s been searching for since he first came to America. He said he thinks he’s finally found it in Juneau.

Albino Mbie, a musician from Mozambique, plays a solo on his guitar during a performance Thursday night as part of the Áak’w Rock music festival at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Albino Mbie, a musician from Mozambique, plays a solo on his guitar during a performance Thursday night as part of the Áak’w Rock music festival at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

“Alaska means something beyond what I can think, especially when talking about the culture,” he said. “When I came here I wanted to find people that could as well have their own ways of freedom. Coming here, seeing the mountains, the culture — it’s pure resiliency.”

Arias Hoyle, a Tlingit hip-hop musician from Juneau known by his stage name AirJazz, was another performer Thursday night. Hoyle said being a part of the festival is “an honor.”

AirJazz, a Tlingit hip-hop artist from Juneau, raps to the crowd during a performance Thursday night as part of the Áak’w Rock music festival at Centennial Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

AirJazz, a Tlingit hip-hop artist from Juneau, raps to the crowd during a performance Thursday night as part of the Áak’w Rock music festival at Centennial Hall. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

“People who have never heard of any Indigenous artists can come to this one big festival, and find out and learn about our cultures,” he said. “People have maybe heard of Reservation Dogs or mainstream stuff, but new Indigenous artists are definitely on the come up thanks to Áak’w Rock.”

Hoyle, who participated in the show in 2021 when it was first created as a virtual event, said this year’s shift to having the concert in person is “a huge step up,” and getting to perform alongside other great artists in the place he calls home is a surreal experience.

“The first one, we were still in the midst of the pandemic and it was isolated, but now we got the whole crew all up in here,” he said. “Not only was it a great turnout, but all of my family and close friends showed up, and it’s their first Áak’w Rock, so it’s an honor.”

Neilga Koogéi Taija Revels, project director for the event, said as of Thursday evening more than 500 people had bought three-day passes to the event. In addition, the show continues to sell single-day passes and student passes.

“It’s here — we have our signs up, the bands are playing, people are showing up and the word is spreading — and we are hoping it continues to grow over the next two days,” said Neilga Koogéi Taija Revels, project director for the event. “It’s going to be an unforgettable event.”

Revels said there’s still time to buy tickets — organizers anticipate more people will be heading to the shows Friday and Saturday, especially with headliners like Ya Tseen and Snotty Nose Rez Kids on deck. She said since the festival was announced there has been a flood of support from both the Juneau community and more than 100 volunteers who are helping make the show happen.

“This is the only Indigenous music festival in all of the United States and I think having it here in Juneau really shows how strongly the community sees tribal events to be a part of this community,” she said. “It’s taken over 100 volunteers to bring this together and most of them are not tribal citizens, it’s just people who believe in the mission of Áak’w Rock and want to see it happen.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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