On the darkest day of winter, with a barely risen sun setting behind him, local musician George Demientieff Holly brought a little light to the lobby of the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai.
Using a mandolin, drum, rattle and his own voice, Holly marked the Dec. 21 winter solstice with songs inspired by a theme he said is consistent in all his work — bringing back the light.
“That, to me, means bringing back hope and imagination and creativity,” he said. “Honoring the old ways, through new forms.”
In tones that were both booming and reverent, Holly sang in several Native Alaskan languages, including Deg Xinag, Tlingit and Dena’ina, and incorporated familiar Alaskan imagery — rivers, mountains, ravens — into his lyrics.
Holly, whose family traces to the Deg Hit’an tribe from the lower Yukon River, said he feels an obligation to use the languages of the Native Alaskan peoples in his music.
“What I try to do is support the language of the area of wherever I live,” Holly said. “I feel that everyone, no matter what their background, their home language, their mother tongue is, we all have the responsibility to support the local language of where we live. That’s what I try to do with my arts.”
Music, he said, is not just about art, but giving back to the community. He writes and performs music and shares it — with organizations, schools, teachers and children.
“I think of music as service,” he said.
In the spirit of service, Holly brought homemade rolls and jelly — spiced with lemon, ginger and tea — to the performance. Holly said it was a nod to his grandparents, who, he said, traditionally shared fruits with other villages during this time.
“That’s just something I wanted to continue,” he said.