The soul-nourishing music of MaMuse

MaMuse is an acoustic folk duo from Chico, California, made up of Karisha Longaker and Sarah Nutting. Known for their soulful harmonies and light, bright lyrics, these women have said that they want their music to bring spiritual uplift and to connect people to the richness of life. Both Longaker and Nutting have backgrounds in music therapy and therefore view music as a healing art form. They also consider it an opportunity to bless others. Because of the intimacy it affords, they especially love performing house concerts.

Although they are not confessional Christians (they have a very all-embracing spirituality), they do cite gospel influences, which is evident in songs like “Hallelujah” and “On the Altar.” The former is the first track on their 2009 debut album All the Way and is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a while. Watch the music video below.

Lyrics | Purchase

The song invokes a whole cluster of water imagery from the Bible. Jesus, for example, declared his Spirit to be the living water that quenches one’s deepest thirst (John 4:1–45, 7:37–39). Those who believe in him will receive within them “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”; “from [their] innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” The third verse of the song alludes to this gift:

There is a river
In this heart of hearts
With a knowingness
Of my highest good

The Spirit not only nourishes and refreshes us but also prompts us to do what is right and good, coursing through our veins like a river of holy desire and spurting forth like a fountain for all to see.  

Also part of this image cluster is the water Moses summoned forth from a rock (Numbers 20:2–13; cf. Psalm 105:41), a picture of God’s sustaining grace and a prefigurement of Christ’s being struck in his Passion; the cleansing waters of baptism; and the river of life in restored Eden (Revelation 22:1–5).

Moreover, the song echoes the biblical injunctions to take our troubles to God, of which these are just a few:

  • Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
  • 1 Peter 5:7: “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

As well as a host of traditional American spirituals, like “Down by the Riverside,” “Since I Laid My Burden Down,” “Leave It There,” and “Down in the River to Pray.”

Following in the long line of those who call God to account through song, MaMuse cites Jesus’s promise in Matthew 7:7 as justification for their request for deliverance:

It’s been said and I do believe
As you ask so shall you receive
So take from me these troubles
Bring me sweet release
Where the river will never run dry

Whether our burden is an oppressive feeling (loneliness, inadequacy, failure), situation, sin, or stressor, Jesus has told us that we need not carry it any longer. He tells us to drop it off at the riverbank and then to jump into those healing waters with both feet.

Watch a live recording of MaMuse performing “Hallelujah” at Café Coda in their hometown. This performance really showcases their masterful control of voice volume, which they utilize to artistic effect:

Another MaMuse song with Christian resonance is “On the Altar,” which they describe as “nonsectarian gospel.” Longaker says that when road-tripping with Nutting during the making of their first album, they happened upon a small Texas church in the early morning. When they went inside, they felt led to lie down on the altar, and this song formed inside them:

Lyrics | Purchase

In Christian parlance, to “lay down on the altar” is to surrender oneself to God. Several Protestant denominations refer to the front of the church as an altar, where congregants are invited to come kneel and be consecrated through prayer in response to the preacher’s call at the end of every service. They themselves are the offering. (In Catholic and Orthodox churches, the altar refers to the communion table where Christ’s sacrifice is commemorated.)

“On the Altar” brings to my mind a number of “invitation hymns” from my upbringing: “I Surrender All,” “Just As I Am,” “Is Your All on the Altar?,” and so on. It cites the story of Hannah, whose song of thanksgiving after the long-awaited conception and birth of her son is memorialized in 1 Samuel 2:1–10. But rather than cling tightly to this new arrival, keeping Samuel all for her own, she dedicates him to God’s service. The fruit of her womb and joy of her heart becomes her offering back to the One who gave it in the first place.

The song also testifies to the experience of spiritual liberation. The wind, a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, exposes the chains in the speaker’s life, then blasts through them.

American artist Yvonne Valenza (née Boudreaux) has created some stellar prints—based on her own spiritual experiences—that cohere beautifully with these two songs by MaMuse.

Lifted by Yvonne Valenza
Yvonne Valenza (American, 1984–), Lifted, 2007. Collograph print.

Her collograph Lifted (available as a Giclée) is a half-length portrait of a woman being pulled up out of darkness by a dove. “I’m gonna let myself be lifted.”

The surface looks almost like water.

Transition of Bondage to Freedom by Yvonne Valenza
Yvonne Valenza (American, 1984–), Transition of Bondage to Freedom, 2006. Zinc-plate etching.

Her etching Transition of Bondage to Freedom is divided into two sections. The leftmost section shows a half-naked woman covering her face and breasts in shame. All sorts of debris tumbles threateningly around her. Her bottom half is wrapped in a sheet, which, when traced past the dividing line, is shown to be unraveling, disintegrating into birds that wing their way up into the sky. The gray tones give way to brightness in this section of the print. The barbed prison wire has been cut. “The winds conjured up / Every slave in my heart / And decided to set them free.”

To view more artworks by Yvonne Valenza, see www.behance.net/gallery/4610065/Printmaking.

To listen to more music by MaMuse, visit www.mamuse.org.

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