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A stairway to Earth – Living Stories from Toronto

by Francesco Tassi

I am going to tell you how I have met Kutt, the stairway’s player of High Park. Kutt is a musician originally from the British Colony of Saint Kitts and Nevis Islands, in the Caribbean (Sea). He lives now in Toronto but he has “played” stairways all around the world

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All begun with a single“Tum, tum”, followed by many others in a shadowy late afternoon during the beginning of May, in Toronto. I was eating a sandwich for my lunch, at 5 pm; in delay, as usual, on life’s agenda. When I firstly heard that sound, I thought to the drums of a First Nation people’s gathering. High Park, the biggest park within Toronto, not far from downtown, seemed the best place to celebrate the connection with Turtle Island, the name that the Indigenous people use to refer to North America. Nevertheless, the sound was metallic and I could not hear any native voice singing the sacred songs celebrating the connection of the First Nation community with the Spirit and the land. Thus the dilemma: trying to follow my daily schedule or to surrender to the inviting call of adventure?

The curiosity was too hard to resist. The temptation is so real, while time is such a vanishing concept…. It did not took long before I was on my way to figure out where the “tumtums” where coming from. I had to follow a path into the bushes: far from the place where the aerobic fanatics were exercising their hunkers to make them slimmer, far from the road beaten by SUVsand limousines which abounded Toronto.

My amazement was great when I discovered that there was not a group of Indigenous people playing drums. Not even a single native. There was not even a proper place of gathering as the TUM! Sprung from a long metallic stairway, a single man was repeatedly beating two long bamboo sticks on the rusted stairway that linked the lower bushes to the higher street level in High Park.

It took some time before I could recognize the outfit of a tall black man, naked feet on the iron stairs, dressed in green and covered by branches and leaves. He saw me, I saw him. He kept playing, I kept listening. Then we stared at each other for some longmoments.

TUM, TUM, TUM! This was not a classical melody revealing gently the human intellect, neither an angelic Presbyterian chorus revealing the perfection of God’s creation. This vibrant sound came from the depth of the earth, rather than the heights of the sky. It was an uninterrupted resounding vibration and it was slowly taking control of me.

As soon as I had decided to follow it, it brought me up on the stairway. Feeling the vibration stronger at every step, I climbed
up till I was standing in front of the “stairway player”. He kept playing and I kept waiting – and vibrating- until he knew I wanted to talk to him. So he stopped.

“Thank you for your music. I have been listening for a while… the sound is overwhelming. You make this place really magic. Who are you?”

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“Thanks for your appreciation. My name is Kutt, but this music is not mine. This music comes from the Earth, I am just a performer. Overwhelming… this is a good word, because when I play I am overwhelmed as you do. What you feel is the transmission of an energy that comes from far away, from a time before the words were born. It comes from the Earth, and we come from there too, never forget that. ”

As I started to listen more carefully, I realized that the sound was a language, and it was talking directly to my guts. It sounded like an earthly language that earthlings had long forgotten. It was neither words, nor notes. It was a mesmerizing pure vibration. Now I understand why Kutt was playing with bared feet: the earth’s song is one of those that you need to listen with your full body.

So I took off my shoes and with my skin on the iron I felt like a drum. I felt that at that moment, being part of the same vibration, we had shared something we both would never forget.

Then Kutt stopped to play and spoke again:

“The stairway connects the city to the Earth, the new urban surface with the ancient core of the forest. When people walk along the stairs, they interact with the sound, producing other vibrations. In this way, they are not just players: they are played themselves by the Earth, because the vibration rings out in their body, touching their minds, filling their hearts. The stairway is a unifying symbol: it links the city to the Earth, those who walk to those who stand, me to you. I knew that today I had to play for you, that is why I came here, to allow the Earth to talk to you and to allow you to listen it.”

Then he told me that it took many years to refine this performance that is both music and ritual, both experience of self- transformation and unification to the Earth. Kutt, originary from Saint Kitts and Nevis, made a long journey and played many stairways around the world before reaching this one, here and now in Toronto. As I cannot play music, but I am a visual learner, I asked him which images he had in mind when he listened to this sound:

“I don’t need any image for my music: I am the best image. When I play I locate myself in a perfect place, so that I can focus on the sound and nothing is missing. I keep playing as much as I can, this is my challenge. Hoping that people will appreciate the energy, instead than complain for the noise.”

After I had listened to and participated in the vibration, I felt then it was time to go and let him play. When I had kindly thank him for sharing the voice of the Earth with me, his answer was again startling : “Thanks to you for being open to answer the call and allowing me to discover things that I was not aware to know before you came here and talked to me.”6

My last thought was about the possibility to record the sound, but then I realized that it was made for the uniqueness of that moment, energy that you couldn’t take anywhere else. Instead, before leaving, I was allowed by Kutt to take some pictures with my camera, while he kept playing.

I felt I had to exchange his generosity somehow, but I had not anything more than my words of appreciation to give him. Soon, the earth took care of my concerns, providing me with what I was lacking. Just under the stairway on which Kutt was beating its two sticks, I run into a strange piece of metal when I was taking the last picture. It had an interesting shape and, after having taken the mud away, it was revealed to be a mask. That mask was precisely the image I had in mind, when I was listening with bared feet Kutt playing the stairway.

I was hard to tell if it was me who found the mask or the the other way around. Nevertheless, I climbed the last time the stairway to give it to him. Kutt agreed that this was the perfect image for the sound of the Earth, and it recalled to his memory an African mask from the Caribbean he had seen long time ago.

The mask was the symbol that I had not chosen for the music that he hadnot played. We both agreed that what happened that afternoon in high Park was exactly what was meant to happen, and we did not need any other word of explanation. Finally, I climbed the stairway for the last time:

“TUM… TUM…Tum… Tum… tum”and then nothing. The air is fullof silence. And wind.9

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