Khu.Eéx means potlatch in Lingít, the Tlingit language, but Monday it will also mean a hefty dose of unique music for a Juneau audience.
The jazz-rock-funk band with a Tlingit name and both Native American and Alaska Native roots is set to play Centennial Hall Monday, Jan. 28.
“When we perform, it’s a little bit of a three-ring circus,” said Preston Singletary, co-founder of the band.
That comes with the territory of playing in an improvisation-heavy band with almost a dozen members, but Khu.Eéx tends to have extra theatrical flair.
Band members often don Alaska Native regalia when performing. However, Singletary said he’s unsure what will be able to make the trip to Juneau from Seattle where he lives.
Regardless, Singletary said he’s eager to bring the act to the capital city for the first time.
“I’m excited for it,” he said. “It’s going to be different than what normally might come to Juneau.”
While this will be the band’s first time performing in town, Singletary may already be known to many Juneauites for his Alaska Native glass art. Singletary has Sitka Tlingit heritage roots.
His glass work has a high profile in Juneau and includes the screen in the Shuká Hit clan house inside the Walter Soboleff Building.
“I think of the music as an extension of what I do with glass,” Singletary said.
Making the band
The strange brew that made Khu.Eéx began to blend when Singletary met the late Bernie Worrell.
Worrell was also a founder of influential funk band Parliament-Funkadelic and played keyboard for the Talking Heads after the release of 1980’s “Remain in Light” until the band broke up in 1992.
He and Singletary hit it off at Singletary’s 50th birthday party.
“Technically, I paid him through a Kickstarter campaign to play a private party,” Singletary said.
The band’s indigenous identity has been intact since that inception.
Worrell, who had Cherokee ancestry, heard Singletary sing a traditional welcoming song from the Nu-chah-nulth, an indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest Coast in Canada.
Worrell began to play around with the melody on an organ, and the seeds were planted that would grow into the indigenized funk-rock ofKhu.Eéx’.
Over the ensuing decade or so, the band has lost and gained members, including Worrell who passed away in 2016.
The recording lineup, which can balloon to up to 10 people, is different from the live roster expected to play the capital city.
Juneau performers will include Skerik on saxophone, vocalist Gene Tagaban, drummer Edward Littlefield, guitarist Captain Raab, vocalist Nahaan, Jason Cresse on trombone, Tim Kennedy on keyboards, Denny Stern on percussion and Songra Segundo on vocals.
New efforts, old language
Khu.Eéx has released two albums, but album No. 3, “Hèen” will be released shortly.
Singletary said he had physical copies of the three-record effort and expected it would be available for purchase shortly. He anticipates copies of the album to be available at the concert.
The album’s title translates to water, in Lingít, and Singletary said it’s full of water-related songs. One side of the three records includes a design on the vinyl.
“It’s a little bit of a collector’s item that way,” Singletary said.
After more than a decade together, Singletary said Khu.Eéx’ has evolved past the point of blending funk-rock with Native songs.
Members are writing original compositions, which feature lyrics in Alaska Native languages.
While Singletary said he is not proficient in the language, he’s glad some of his bandmates are, and he’s proud to be making art that uses Native language.
“It’s really exciting,” Singletary said. “We like to feel we’re doing some small part in language preservation. It’s really amazing how it comes through.”
Know & Go
What: Khu.Eéx’ in concert
Where: Centennial Hall, 101 Egan Drive
When: 7:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 28
Admission: $5-$30. Tickets can be purchased by calling 586-2787, at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center or online through Jahc.org.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenHohenstatt.