Three songs of truth-telling beauty

By on December 12, 2011

Zimbabwean poet Ignatius Mabasa
Photo: contributed

“Beauty will save the world” is a saying attributed to Dostoevsky.Yet given all that fragments our world, it seems a bold, counter-intuitive claim. Paul reminds us, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). As Christians, we are about making bold and counter-intuitive claims.

This has been embraced by our community of saint benedict’s table, as we seek to support artists, writers and musicians to go about their creative work. Thankfully, it has also been embraced by the Sacred Arts Trust of the Anglican Foundation, which for the second time in five years has chosen to support our vision for beauty-making.

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On a cold day last December, St. Philip’s Church in Winnipeg was transformed into a recording studio, allowing the Canadian musician Alana Levandoski to sit down with the Zimbabwean writer and poet Ignatius Mabasa and record three remarkable songs. Alana offered spacious versions of two of her originals and one hymn-“What wondrous love is this?”-into which Ignatius wove pieces of his original poetry, written and spoken in the Shona language of his homeland. The result is striking, and even without the descriptions of the meaning of each poem provided in the CD liner notes, the sounds speak for themselves. Across cultures, languages and life experiences, these two artists created three pieces of truth-telling beauty.

Through the fall of 2010, Ignatius served as storyteller-in residence at the University of Manitoba. A former Fulbright Scholar, Ignatius has published several novels and spoken-word recordings, all in the Shona language. “Inspiration almost always comes to me in my mother language,” he says. “It is the language I think, dream, cry and laugh in.” During his time in Winnipeg, a chance circumstance put him in touch with saint benedict’s table, and when he discovered that we count a number of working musicians among our membership, he voiced his dream of recording with a Canadian songwriter.

Alana Levandoski was the natural connection. An artist with a serious reputation in the folk and roots music world, Alana is currently a part-time staff musician at Holy Trinity Church in Edmonton. She brought to the recording her passion for music and story-for the creation of beauty in the contexts of both church and world. She also brought her experience of recording in church buildings. Her 2009 album Lions and Werewolves (which was profiled in the Journal, September 2009) was recorded at St. James Church in her hometown of Kelwood, Man., while her six-song project Hymns From the Desert was recorded in All Saints Church, Winnipeg.

Together, Alana and Ignatius have created a project of beauty. And while this one recording might not change the world, it does offer a compelling snapshot of a vision shared between two artists from across what has sometimes seemed an insurmountable divide of the churches of the global south and north.

For more information, go to stbenedictstable.ca. Digital downloads are also available through iTunes.

Jamie Howison is the founding pastoral leader of saint benedict’s table in Winnipeg.

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