The Como Mamas will sing the gospel songs they were raised with Sunday morning at the Folk Festival.
Every year I enjoy scanning the roster of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival for signs of faith. While I love the diversity of musicians – there’s no better way to get a taste of world music in Vancouver – I also like to discover the Christians in their midst.
Sunday morning is a particular treat at the Folk Fest (scheduled for July 18 – 20 this year). Most times, an old hippy stage manager introduces ‘Church in the Park’ and the crowd sings and claps along with some old gospel and spiritual favourites. Any pastor would love a congregation with as much enthusiasm.
Folk Fest organizers have confirmed the line-ups, so we know that The Como Mamas and Leo ‘Bud’ Welch will play the ‘Glory Bound’ session 10 am Sunday morning.
The Como Mamas
The Como Mamas hail from the small town of Como, Mississippi. Ester Mae Smith, along with sisters Angela Taylor and Della Daniels, grew up singing in church together. “We’re family, says Della, “and someone in our family was always in church singing . . . We just started singing together because that was basically what we knew.”
Ester Mae adds, “We started singing . . . about seven, eight years old. We started being at church, that’s how I learned the songs, and being around the elders that always sung those good gospel hymns, it just got in my spirit as a child. Those songs were so spiritual, they were just kind of rooted in me . . .
“You know, every song carries a message . . . They’ll just pick your spirit up and just make you feel that it is going to be alright.”
One Daptone Records YouTube video shows the three women pointing out over a slough (charitably a lake) where they were baptized years ago. As they look and remember, they sing out: “Baptize you in the name of the Father, baptize you in the name of the Son, they baptized me in the name of the Holy Ghost, and it was all over and done, It was the greatest experience my soul ever had. I can’t forget it, no I can’t forget it. . .”
When The Como Mamas take to the Folk Fest stage, you can be sure there will be lots of clapping, hand-raising and amens – in the audience, I mean, not just up on stage. Everyone who hears the powerful, deep-rooted gospel message will leave with raised spirits.
Leo ‘Bud’ Welch
Bud Welch loves gospel music, but he loves the blues too.
Leo ‘Bud’ Welch will be there Sunday morning as well, and like The Como Mamas, he hails from Mississippi. Organizers say, “he waited over 80 years to become an overnight sensation.”
“He learned guitar as a youth, learning to play the blues from listening to the radio. He went on to play his gospel-spiked brand of rural acoustic blues around the area at local churches, picnics, community gatherings, on local radio and TV, and at other venues near Bruce, where he lived with his family and worked on a logging crew in Mississippi hill country. While at times the wider world beckoned, mostly only locals knew of his prodigious talent.”
Then, in his 81st year, late in 2013, he recorded Sabougla Voices, which has brought him much wider attention including, fortunately, that of the Folk Fest.
Their assessment: “It is blues and it is gospel: fiery, heartfelt and glorious music. Bud says ‘I believe in the Lord, but the blues speaks to life, too. Blues has a feeling just like gospel; they just don’t have a [bible].’ Neither juke joint nor house of worship, we think the wide-open outdoors of Jericho Beach Park is a perfect setting for Mr. Welch and his music.” Amen!
The Como Mamas and Bud will be joined Sunday morning by Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar, about whom Folk Fest promoters quote Romi Mayes: ““Think Bonnie Raitt after eight shots of whiskey and you get Samantha Martin.” Hmmm, I suppose that could add some spice to the service. Well, in describing her new partnership with Delta Sugar, the promo materials do say: “In this new gospel infused, blues and soul formation, Martin’s music is stripped down and raw.”
I’m expecting a great show Sunday morning, and they’ll all be playing other stages as well.
Aboriginal experience in music
Gospel music was central to the black American experience as they survived slavery and racism. Unfortunately, the same has not been true for Australian Aboriginals who, like our Indigenous people, suffered at hands of colonial regimes, unfortunately often aided by the churches on mission stations and in residential schools.
So I will be looking forward to hearing the music of Frank Yamma, a traditional Pitjantjatjara man from Australia’s central desert. “With his soulful, resonant voice (described as a mix of honey and gravel), he is regarded as one of Australia’s most important indigenous songwriters. Yamma’s sometimes brutally honest tales of alcohol abuse, cultural degradation, respect for the old law and the importance of the land are potent statements, visceral ‘shouts of pain.'”
Roger Knox will be there too. “As it turns out, you can’t beat country music as a vehicle for telling tough tales and the Aboriginal Country & Western Songbook is peppered with drinking songs and prison songs; songs that yearn for justice and for home; songs of alienation and the loneliness of the outsider.”