When a roots rocker meets a "gospoet"

If you’re recording music in a Winnipeg church in the middle of winter, clanging radiators can be a major problem.

Alana Levandoski and Ignatius Mabasa combine rock and dub poetry in their creative three-song collaboration. SEAN CARNEY
Alana Levandoski and Ignatius Mabasa combine rock and dub poetry in their creative three-song collaboration. SEAN CARNEY

So Alana Levandoski and Ignatius Mabasa recorded in shifts at Saint Philip’s Anglican Church last December, warming up the sanctuary then switching off the heat for precious minutes of chilly, but clang-free, music-making.

This month they release the result of their creative labour: a collection of three songs, each grounded by Ms. Levandoski’s country-tinged rock and punctuated with smooth dub poetry delivered in Shona by Mr. Mabasa, a Zimbabwean. The CD is produced by saint benedict’s table, Winnipeg, with support from the Anglican Foundation’s Sacred Arts Trust.

Though united by their Christian faith, the artists are very different.

Alana Levandoski is an Edmonton-based singer-songwriter with two studio albums under her belt.

Ignatius Mabasa identifies as a “gospoet,” and is an award-winning novelist and poet from Harare, Zimbabwe.

It was saint benedict’s founding pastor, the Rev. Jamie Howison, who connected the unlikely pair. Mr. Mabasa was writer/storyteller in residence at the University of Manitoba when Mr. Howison learned he wanted to work with a local musician. Soon the priest recruited Ms. Levandoski, a friend of saint benedict’s table.

It took a bit for the two to bond. She didn’t speak Shona, the language he performed in, and he was unfamiliar with her strong, rock vocal style.

But slowly they began to work together. One day they jammed at a monastery where Ms. Levandoski was volunteering. Another day they went on a shopping trip, hunting for boots for Mr. Mabasa’s wife.

Finally they decided to record in a local church, a familiar setting for Ms. Levandoski, who had recorded two other projects in churches. She pulled in a cadre of musicians for that cold, but productive, December session.

“I’m quite proud of these songs,” said Ms. Levandoski. “They’re phenomenally recorded and it’s just a lovely document, I think, to the story of Ignatius visiting and the concept of collaboration.”

Two of the songs are original compositions by Ms. Levandoski and the third is an adaptation of the hymn “What Wondrous Love is This?” Mr. Mabasa’s poetry plays on a variety of themes, from political violence in Zimbabwe to belief in God. A common theme is surviving through difficult times.

No direct translation is offered in the liner notes, but Mr. Howison explained in an email that in “What wondrous love = Patarfura yamambo,” Ignatius tells the story of King David inviting a disabled Mephibosheth to come and live with him.

“That Ignatius speaks from the perspective of Mephibosheth is particularly poignant, given both Alana’s delivery and the lyrical content of the American hymn,” wrote Mr. Howison.

Mr. Howison also sees the CD as having another, symbolic significance.

“We’re delighted,” he continued, “that in an age when there has been considerable tension between the churches of the global south and north, we were able to draw together these two Christian artists on a common project.”

Other contributors to this project were recording engineer Don Benedictson, guitarist Murray Pulver, percussionist Daniel Roy, and studio technician Allan Hunnie. Members of saint benedict’s table also offered volunteer support, including photographer Sean Carney and graphic designer Drew Dueck.

o   The CD can be ordered for $7 (including shipping to both Canada and the U.S.) from saint benedict’s table.

o   It is also available for download from iTunes.

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