Written by Debra Lynn
The musical ensemble, Kutapira, that played at the Port Hardy Civic Centre on Oct. 15 is the delightful result of happenstance, more specifically, the result of efforts by some compassionate souls who, 15 years ago, decided to put on and become involved with an enriching music program for youth.
Kutapira, a word that means “sweetness” in the Zimbabwean Shona language, is normally a seven-piece band. On this night, they were working with a skeleton crew of four that included Chris Couto on drums, marimba and percussion, Kai Buchan, as their marimba specialist, Jonah Ocean, their string specialist on bass and guitar and Sanguido Bigelow who plays everything and appears to be the spokesperson of the group.
Kutapira had its genesis after the future group members participated in a summer music program at the Round House Community Centre in Vancouver as school-aged youth. They were taught classes in Zimbabwean marimba, Brazilian Samba and Afro-Cuban percussion (or West African drumming), all taught by different people from Zimbabwe, West Africa and Cuba. Their summer camp was then run as an after-school music program at Britannia Community Centre. It inspired some of its participants to embark on a career in music as Kutapira, one highlight of which was performing for Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle in 2007.
Sanguido Bigelow said that, as they were first putting a band together, his father suggested that they use all those styles they learned and combine them into one sound. Bigelow describes their music is an incorporation of Reggae, Cumbia (a folk music genre that originated in Columbia and spread through and influenced the Latino world) and Afro-Beat. A centerpiece of their band is their Zimbabwean marimba (xylophone) which they modified for modern times. Originally, the Zimbabwean marimba was made with gourds and spider eggs which they replaced with PVC pipes from Home Depot.
Interestingly, the strong influence from Zimbabwe comes directly from the youth programs, as none of the group members have been to or hail from Zimbabwe. The influence found its way into their psyches and their lives simply because they were a bunch of “all Canadian boys” looking for something to do.
I think there is much more influencing Kutapira’s music than the afore mentioned styles. Right off the bat, I recognized sounds that I associate with the plucked Chinese stringed instruments such as the Chinese guitar (pipa) and the Chinese zither (guzheng) which briefly brought me back to my time spent in Asia in the 1980s. There was a brief interlude of Latino Rap. As I was listening to their CD on the way home, I recognized American Rap and jazz rhythms. I was also reminded of the song Popcorn by Crazy Fog that was popular in the seventies. Though their music has a strong base in Afro-Beat and Cumbia, they were able to evolve these traditional sounds into something that is new, original and uniquely their own. The fact that they have never been to Zimbabwe might have been a benefit. It left the door open for direct and indirect
influences from their own cultural experience, producing a body of work that is an elegant mishmash of musical styles.
The group has high youthful confident energy. I think the typical Latino beat might have even been sped up just slightly. It was a Latino beat on steroids, perhaps serendipitously alluding to how life in the modern world keeps moving faster and faster.
A fundamental component of every type of artist’s development is to study the traditions of the past, but to evolve in some way into the present and become relevant. Kutapira is exemplary in this regard! Oct. 15 was a night of first-class entertainment in Port Hardy.