May 2023 | Interview with MaMuse – Sarah Nutting and Karisha Longaker
Karisha Longaker (K) and Sarah Nutting (S) formed MaMuse in 2007. They are consummate musicians—each plays a number of instruments, which include, upright bass, flute, mandolin, percussion, and more. Their voices create exquisite harmonies and they often sing acapella.
I first heard MaMuse play at the Global Resilience Conference 2022 on Zoom. Last Fall, I heard them in person as MaMuse + Fula Brothers, an African/Folk/Gospel-infused mash-up, at Landwell, the community in Sebastopol where they live.
Our interview happened on Zoom:
I’ve been listening to two of your albums, “Heart Nouveau” and “Integration of the Awkward.” It came to me that a good way in would be to look at your lyrics and see what unfolds.
“Clear Requests” by Sarah
Clear Requests born of a humble heart.
May you know my intentions before I start to make these Clear Requests, not to be a burden but simply to part these clouds of confusion hanging o, hanging over us…
And someone was mean to me somewhere in the past, someone was mean to you too and I got room, I got room for that…
And Someone said No to you, somewhere in the past, someone said no to me too, it’s vulnerable as hell, but I’m still gonna ask…
Clear requests let’s rewrite the stories of our lives, may we get what we need here in present time…
S: I was trying to be clear with my words and really asking for what I needed/desired. I didn’t learn that so well in my childhood, so this song was a powerful moment to sing out the learning that I was in.
“Through That Gate” by Sarah
They’re cooking up fear in the kitchen, we’re serving up a different stew.
Sincerely sipping love’s magical brew, one by one, we’ll all sip it in time, one by one, we’ll all sip it in time…
We got fire in our water and plastic in our food, I’m gonna say it, but I won’t put the blame on you, one by one, we’ll all know it in time, one by one, we’ll all know it in time…
One by one, we’re all going home, one by one, we’re all going home…
We were in Beaufort, South Carolina, where I’m from. It’s a unique culture, West African, Gullah, the first enslaved people to be given their freedom. We were in the First African Baptist Church. The preacher talked about going through the Gates of Heaven, one by one, and asked us to turn to our neighbor and say, “Neighbor, I’m going through that gate and you’re coming with me.”
During those times while we were touring, everything became a little ditty, so we walked out of that church, arm in arm, down the front steps, singing “I’m Going through that Gate, you’re coming with me…” The rest of the lyrics came about a year later…One by one, we’ll all know it in time.
“Bloom” by Karisha
…It’s my honor to adore you…
Help to write the score
In support of our real live expansion
We’re the open doors
To this life, to this love
To this music divine…
Do you want to bloom in my hands
The stars are singing for us
All the elements the big band
And the animals the chorus…
K: Sometimes it just comes through. It was right around the time my daughter was born. She’s nine now. I wasn’t playing as many instruments while carrying her around. I was singing acapella and a whole batch of songs came at that time.
The recognition that it’s ours to grow each other well, my partner, too. We are walking portals to whatever we want to see happen. We can tend well to each other and ourselves and see what blooms. I was sitting outside, my daughter on a rug, and the high notes came.
“Great Spirit’s Hands” by Sarah
…Through the seasons there’s a reckoning of how we die and we take birth, so in between all our holy whispers, in the marketplace of our dreams, we dance, dance, dance, for all the beauty and all the obscene.
Cause life is short and it’s our duty to shake it up while we can.
To be worn ragged, used up by Great Spirit’s hands, by Great Spirit’s Hands…
And in the morning a child will come to us, an old woman will go the other way.
Through the tunnel of dark and light, birth and death, it’s one and the same.
And does the dragonfly get lonely as she dies in the palm of my hand?
I offer it up, all I do, and don’t understand…
S: I was immersed in Death Doula work and hospice volunteering. The song came as a poem, an ode to some of the bigger questions regarding life and death and living as FULLY as we can in the brief time that we’re here.
Overdue and over dressed, under blankets as old as Earth.
It doesn’t mean something to the thinking mind.
K: To be worn ragged, at the end of life to be weathered. To be able to say, I went there, I did that, now I’m going.
S: And does the dragonfly get lonely… I was on a training with a group of women, and the Death Doula heard this dragonfly calling and picked it up.
S: There’ve been times we’ve been caught in the trance of “we have to perform, tour, etc.” Covid shook all musicians. We had to figure out how to keep our creativity alive and through that realized that we need to stay anchored in our own process.
We really enjoy doing personalized songs. We make up a song and the rest is improvised. It’s been a beautiful experience.
K: Who do people need songs for and about what? We sing that song to the essence of the person/situation and then we improvise the verses. That’s an offering.
We’re using Patreon as a platform. It’s online and allows us to interact with people who support us, from $5 a month upwards. We ask the community, “What do you want to know about us or our creative process?”
We didn’t want it to be just transactional. We want to be in relationship with people who want to support us, refining what’s important to us—singing with people and being relational, not just singing on a stage.
Recently we made a multi-video post about our creative process for all Patrons. We danced for ten minutes, free wrote for ten minutes, circled words and then made a song in one direction and another song in a different direction. We videoed each stage. It was like a workshop, and then we posted it. It holds us accountable, too, to be creative.
K: We also need to hear what music the community wants.
S: Our community, Landwell, is a 22-acre residential community just outside of Sebastopol with a recording studio, a school, 7 dwellings and other spaces, and a farm project. It’s a real attempt at changing the structure around land! Our goal is to rematriate the land, put it into a trust, and the houses into a co-op, so it can’t be put back on the market.
The land is owned by a couple, and we’re trying to transition to someone who will hold the lease with our shared goal. We’re not thinking that we, the people living here, will buy it. We’re opening to the wider community to support this project. We’ve been gearing up for a couple of years, and in the next two weeks, we’ll be asking our wider community.
MaMuse’s 5-minute video, “Prayers for Freedom,” beautifully illustrates their values in action and how they are realizing collective healing through their music:
Antidote to the News
petal upon petal
among serrated leaves
and spiders’ webs
each five-rayed floret
a shining globe
a simple patch
to mend my heart
From The Dreams We Share