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 artists, growtips, info & more


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                  Mutamba playing deze

In This Issue:  Music is an intricate part of our being. It is our identity and can cause great emotion in our hearts. This month we are very happy to introduce Mutamba, a musician who understands the relationship between music and ourselves; a relationship that has been passed down through time.

Mutamba has intrigued us with his knowledge about mbira and mbira music. His own music is hypnotic and we can honestly say that the next time we hear a mbira being played, we will be listening with a much better appreciation for this centuries old instrument which tells ancient stories.

Also dropping in is Ted Scott, a photographer from Toronto. He stopped by Northern Dipper and could not resist pulling out his camera. Once back in his studio he created some breath-taking images and now we have the privledge of sharing them with you.

Also lots of mail this month plus trivia, music pics and other stuff too. Make a hot cup of tea, pull up a chair and be prepared to get lost in the wonderful world of gourd art, music and all things good.


Mutamba is a mbira musician, storyteller and dancer who grew up in Zimbabwe and now lives in Toronto. For those of you who love music, instruments and gourds, you will find this interview enlightening, educational and inspiring.

1.) What is the role and purpose of the mbira in Zimbabwean culture?

The mbira has played a diverse role in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa for many generations. First and foremost it is a spiritual instrument. It is used to bring the ancestors into the midst of the community on both formal occasions and at informal gatherings. It brings spirit in meditations and in storytelling. The mbira is relevant in any scenario where music is needed or played.

Mbira also denotes a specific genre of music, the waves and sounds that comes from the instrument when the keys are stroked. People also refer to mbira as music that is played on other instruments, with its origins coming from the mbira aura. To summarize, one can play mbira music without the mbira instrument in some contexts.

2.) How old were you when you began to play?

I started hearing mbira music when I was in my mom's belly. My mother was an incredible singer, and during the struggle for liberation, she was an active organizer in the community. Responsible for providing entertainment to the guerrillas (who were carrying out the physical fighting against British colonialism,) she included singing and dancing as they are an essential part of the community.

I have been told that I was drawn to dance and drumming from an early age. I had a strong interest in the mbira as I had an uncle who played but he passed away before I had a chance to learn. So I continued with my dance and drum, learning styles from my area such as a ngororombe and maduda.

At 19 I moved to Harare and there I was re-introduced to mbira. But I still didn't have my won instrument so I could not learn fully. It was about 8 years ago, when Stella Chiweshe came to Canada to perform at Afofest, that I got my own mbira. I had a teacher and since then, I have been playing on my own and sometimes trading songs with a couple of mbira players in Toronto.

3.) Are the songs and stories you play specific to your own family?

Mbira continues to be a family tradition and there are many great mbira playing families. The likes of Magaya's, Chigamba, Zemba, Tirikoti, to name a few. Apart from a couple of uncles from my paternal grandmother's side, my family is not a mbira family. The traditional instrument songs that I play are from other families. However the lyrics that I add to the songs, speaks of my own story and my family.

I also compose my own songs. An example is this song that I am playing with my son Kudakwashe.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cLMvJIeyVk&feature=related/
We named the song Moyo (the heart) which is my family totem. The song speaks to the deaths of members of my family, about 3 folks died in 2011 alone, which is rare even though we are such a big family. In this song I am wondering if there is some mystery that needs to be understood, lest the whole family perishes. 

4) It seems to me that African music is gaining popularity around the world. Do you see a trend in this?

Playing in Toronto the past four years has clearly shown that a lot of people here do love African music. This is a phenomenom that I guess came with the opening of North American borders to African performers. There are many people from North America visiting Africa where they get to experience the music in diverse contexts, at the source so to speak.

I am not really surprised that African music is so popular, for many genres of music in North America are influenced by African music. You can trace blues, jazz, hip hop and rock to African traditional repertoires. People are learning traditional African music repetoires, notably West African djembe, mbirs (I teach here in Toronto), marimba, Kora. It is encouraging  to see this interest.

I also see an opportunity for folks to learn of each other's humanity. An opportunity for people to respect each other's knowledges and spiritual ways. Historically relationships that are centered on colonization of African peoples have sowed negative relating and therefore appropriation of African art forms.

I ask myself "Could this current trend, the loving of African music be a catalyst in this necessary cross-cultural relating change we so need at this time and in the future?" I would like to believe so. 

5.) African music has a different rhythm to American and Latin music. What are these differences?

This is a hard one. I seem to see both differences and similarities. Music is complex and there tends to be so many genres within continents, some close, some that differ substantially. I do find that some African genres are so close to the few Latin musics that I know. Take for example Salsa and Rhumba. They are close to what we call sungura (Zimbabwe) and Ndombolo (Central and West Africa). It only makes sense since lots of Latin American music is influenced not only by African music sensibilities (from the days of slavery) but also the instruments used.

When I was doing my undergrad at Trent University, I took a couple of Indigenous Dance and Repetoire courses and was blown away by the similarities with some of our dances, chants and vocalization. So while there are differences, lots in fact, I also see many similarities. And that can be said for the musical differences that exist from one village to the next, or one region to the next, even in intra-Africa.

6.) Current Happenings...

I have workshops in mbira playing in Toronto. I also sell mbiras made by my friends John Wazara and Kudzai in Zimbabwe. The workshops are every Saturday from 3 - 4:30 pm. I will help folks to make Dezes if they wish to have them.

My contact info: rainosm@gmail.com
Ph: 406/826-1252

http://www.mutamba.org/ will be up in February

For another YouTube link click here:

I am also facilitating a long-weekend workshop in April. Here is t
he link:

Mutamba. we really enjoyed meeting you and writing this article.  We hope to come to see you play in the very near future. We do love the mbira and now that we know its long history, love it even more. Thank you!

Through The Lens: Photography by Ted Scott
Hi Carolyn and Linda,
I visited your farm with my friend Joy, made some photos of the gourds in storage, and bought some beautiful forms which I am really enjoying. I am enclosing some photos of the ones in storage, and some photos which I made here in my studio.
Best wishes; hope to visit again,
Ted Scott

Here are some of his beautiful photos:

              Gourd and Chinese Lanterns                     

                            In The Raw

To learn more about this talented and extraordinary artist click here: http://www.tedscott.com/

Out Of The Mailbag
Hi Carolyn,
I too enjoy receiving and reading your newsletter. The question and response to tip cleaning for woodburning pens prompts me to respond. I don't believe you should ever use an abrasive (sandpaper, emery cloth, etc) on the tip. Abrasives remove metal and also removes the sharp edge on the cutting tips.

As you say, carbon builds up very quickly when woodburning - and with gourds it's even worse because gourds also produce a lot of resin which makes the carbon stick to the tip even more. Razertip recommends scraping the carbon from the tip using what is essentially two crossed razor blades. I have a short tutorial on my site showing how to use the Razortip cleaner. 

               The Razortip Tip Cleaner

Sue Walters (Australia) recommends having a small metal strainer handy to wip the tip on. But the best tip I've read is to have a small jar (or jar lid) containing acetone, lacquer thinner or oven cleaner on your work table and frequently dip the tip in the solvent before wiping the tip on a piece of denium or leather.

The solvent breaks down the resin from the gourd and frees the carbon. The scraping then becomes very simple to remove the residual carbon. The best of both worlds. You're not removing metal and thereby not lessoning the life of the tip plus you're keeping the tip clean and sharp.

If you find you have to keep adjusting the temperature up, that you want to push harder, it's past time to clean your tip.

Keep up the great work. You're welcome to use the photos. The source is Razortip.com for credit.
Jim Widess
Your source for Caning, Basketry and Gourd Crafting Supplies
926 Gilman Street
Berkeley, CA, 94710

Thank you Jim for your email and for the links you sent. Your experience is well known and is always warmly accepted. We look forward to seeing you again. Carolyn          
Hello Northern Dipper,
You had mentioned in a previous newsletter about Chinese New Year (January 23, 2012) and I would like to send you a link for the Chinese horoscope predictions for 2012. The first thing you have to figure out is what year you were born.

Here is the link for that: http://www.char4u.com/chinese-zodiac-sign.php

And here is the link to let you know what your year will be like: http://ca.shine.yahoo.com/chinese-new-year--horoscope-predictions-for-2012.html
Love your newsletter, gung hoy fat choy.
                      Mary Simmons, Newmarket, Ontario
Mary Simmons we did have fun with this and are certain our readers will too. Thanks for thinking of us.
                                                Carolyn and Linda 

Looking Ahead: March 2012

Next month we are travelling to Victoria, B.C. to visit with Raven Wyntre-Clarkson, a well known artist on the West Coast. Her art is sought out by both individuals and collectors due to the utilization of various techniques and colour that make Raven's art truly her own. In addition Raven is a fascinating woman and we are thrilled that she will be gracing the pages of Gourd Fever

Early spring is when gardeners are beginning to plan their summer gardens. Visions of gorgeous flower beds, lush vegetable patches and thick gourd vines fill the imagination. In light of this we will have a short article on what growing conditions are necessary to achieve a successful gourd crop. 

We have shows in Stratford and Toronto in March - if you can make it, drop by and say hello. If you are driving in to Stratford or Toronto why not make it a get-away weekend. Stratford is a charming town and Toronto never lacks for things to do and sometimes, after a long winter, it can be just the ticket to rejuvanate the spirits.

That's it for now. Have a great month everyone.
                            Carolyn Cooper and Linda Bond
PS If you have any stories or ideas that you would like to contribute to this newsletter please send to info@northerndipper.com

Volume 8, Number 83


Email: info@northerndipper.com

In this issue: 

Mutamba: The Voice and Dreams of Mbira 
The Bulletin Board: News From Northern Dipper

Through The Lens: Gourd Photography by Ted Scott

Out Of the Mailbag, Gourd Sightings & Trivia

   The Bulletin Board

       Upcoming Shows
Stratford Garden Festival
March 1 - 4, 2012
An excellent show with great vendors, beautiful gardens and more. Guaranteed to be a very satisfying experience.

For details click here:
 One Of A Kind Spring Show
March 28 - April 1, 2012

Where: Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place,
Toronto Ontario
Everyone knows about the One of a Kind Christmas Show...have you attended the One of a Kind Spring Show? It is a bright spot and is a real must. See you there!
Peterborough Garden Show
April 5 - 7, 2012
This show is casual and relaxed...a real joy both for vendors and customers!
For more info click here:


"In Zimbabwe mbira is an umbrella term for many lamellaphones that are constructed from wood and metal. They are played by plucking the metal with thumbs and sometimes index fingers."

"The story is that the mbira was given to someone through dreams. To construct the mbira, this individual was  asked to use a specific wood for the board (Gwariva), from the Mubvamaropa (Pterocarpus angolensis) tree, a tree we believe has powerful healing elements."

Pterocarpus angolensis tree

"The individual was also asked to mine iron for the keys from specific mountains, that are burial sites for powerful spirits. The mbira then embody the spiritual powers of the ancestors and the healing elements of nature."

"Mbira songs speak to all the arenas of human and earth existence. Any subject is taken up, there are no taboos, depending on the context of course. Death, war, triumph, love, animals, trees, wind, water, sexual relationships, jealousy, you name it."



"The deze is almost three-quarters of the gourd, with or without jingles (traditionally wooden shells), but now are made with bottle caps since Coca Cola. The mbira is the wooden board and the keys."
"You can play the mbira
without the gourd. When the mbira is placed inside the gourd, this is called a deze."
"It is believed that people
would usually make their own mbira and it is still encouraged. Now there are quite a number of mbira makers so people don't have
 to make their own as much. Mbira is made from wood and metal; recycled metal mostly, box spring mattresses and large nails, etc."



"People whose music I never tire of from Zimbabwe:
"Stella Chiweshe,
Forward Kwenda, Mbira Dzenharira, Garikayi Tirikoti (one of the most remarkable innovators of mbira and mbira music) and Thomas Mapfumo".

"Outside of Zimbabwe I love Bob Marley, The Be Good Tanyas, Tracy Chapman, Baba Maal and Lucky Dube."

Editors Note: Many of these artists are on YouTube so check them out.

Deze gourds

Photographs by Ted Scott
Ted Scott is an accomplished photographer, architect, lecturer and a world traveller. He visited Northern Dipper and wrote back to let us know he was having fun with the gourds back at his studio.



   Out Of The Mailbag
Hi there,
I love your newsletter and was going back through the list of newsletters on your website starting with the newest ones, but a lot of the photos do not open. Have they been removed from your files?
Ruth Leach

Hi Ruth
Yes they had been temporarily removed by error. The problem has been looked at, a solution found, and is now fixed.

  It's A Dog's Life

Mickey had never seen snow before and at first he seemed puzzled. Within moments however he was kicking up his heels with all his pals at the dog park...the snow makes them all very frisky.

 Wish all the scraping and shovelling would make me feel like a young pup too!

Music Pic of the Month
The band:
Walk Off The Earth

The song:
Somebody I Use To Know

To learn more click here:

A second music pic was added this month in memory of  Etta James. Etta was an American singer who bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll. She passed away last month at the age of 74. 

Here is I'd Rather Go Blind. 

Other Stuff... 

To end we would like to add a
 link into a documentary which will be released In October 2012. It is the brain child
of Chris Darimont; science
director of the Raincoast
 Conservation Foundation.

Chris is also a surfer and often finds himself up in northern B.C. waters. He witnesses marine mammals
 in their natural habitat and is very concerned about the threats the oil
 tankers would have on the environment if the Enbridge Gateway pipeline goes ahead. Click here for this short trailer; the filming is beautiful.

 Published by:
Pam Grossi
Victoria, BC, V8R 2Z7

 Northern Dipper      PO Box 1145
 5376 County Rd 56  
Cookstown, Ontario
L0L 1L0 Canada
(705) 435-3307
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