Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Day 3. Mwenge carvers - flutemaking workshop

It’s the big day! The day to make the flute. Again I’m up at the crack of dawn – I interview Martin before breakfast – it seems this is the time when he’s clear in his head. At breakfast we get talking to Lara, a woman from Colorado in the States who is travelling through Uganda and Tanzania researching wildlife and conservation projects, turns out she also plays the celtic harp. She’s really interested in what we are doing so when James arrives, I invite her to join us for the day, we have so many cross-over interests, and it turns out she became a very useful member of our team, taking photos for us throughout the day.

So this is it – we arrive at Mwenge and Focus leads us to an undercover area where shortly a group of twenty or so carvers come to see what’s going on. Martin starts the proceedings by playing the flute he has brought with him. The carvers are delighted and cheer when he finishes, everyone is so interested to see a flute made from mpingo, although they use mpingo daily it’s not used for musical instruments here. So Martin gets to work explaining how it is made, and the carvers assist with the laborious task of making the flute by hand. Along the way there are many questions, people seem interested to know if they can make the flute here and how much it sells for. They are impressed with Martins craftsmanship and some say they are surprised to see a European man working with his hands, it seems many thought everyone wore suits and worked in offices. Martin is equally impressed with their craftsmanship and by lunch the outer body of the flute is being turned, the man operates the device with his feet and a large bow, he is working with great accuracy.

After lunch the precision work of making the blow-hole and the fingerholes begins, many of the carvers see that this is the problematic part as you have to be able to know the notes and hear the tuning. Martin agrees that the carvers would need to learn to play the flute, lots of the carvers take it in turn to try, there is one tribe who make flutes from bamboo and they get quite a good sound. Around 4pm the final adjustments to the flute are made and the flute it finished. It’s by no means perfect and probably wouldn’t sell to Martin’s customers but as a first attempt it is very good, and the sound it fantastic.

It’s a brilliant achievement, everyone is delighted. Focus has arranged for a drumming group to come and perform which is a great way to end the day. Martin makes a gift to the carvers of some of the tools he has brought with him and also the flute that has been made. We leave the remaining pieces of mpingo with them and they are going to make some carvings for us to take home which we will pickup on our way home at the end of the week.

So we leave mwenge and head for a bar by the ocean to relax, celebrate and reflect. I interview James to get his view of the whole process, he has been instrumental in making this happen, and it is our last day with him as tomorrow we are travelling to Kilwa Masoko, where the Mpingo Conservation is based. Both Martin and I are really sad to be saying goodbye to James, he has become a good friend in such a short space of time.