Don't mess with a soprano  

13 moons guide artist

Clint George is a First Nation man of the land, a rebel, tattooist, archer, metal artist, husband, father and teacher. 

He was born, raised and schooled in Penticton. 

He uses his art, a product of his heritage, to tell the ancient stories of his people and some stories of his own. 

Today, his art is big and metal. It wasn’t always that way. It started with beads and pencils.

Clint gives credit for his artistic abilities to his mom and dad. 

“Mom and dad were artists. Mom could bead anything and dad could sketch, work with metal and customize old cars.”

Clint spent many hours beading with his mom and is still learning from his dad.

He also spent many hours his elders in the mountains learning archery and to how to hunt.

It is not surprising that he won first place for a drawing of a realistic owl in third grade. What is surprising is that he competed against high school age children.

Clint the rebel started in high school. The more he was told he couldn’t, the more he became convinced he could. He taught himself how to tattoo. It took two years, but he opened his own tattoo shop, Level 13. He was only 19.

“Why the number 13?” I asked. 

Clint said it is a significant number dealing with the 13 moons of their culture. Life changes every 13 years. An elder advised him that it was a fortunate number for him.

The elder’s prediction was correct. The next 16 years were very successful, but turbulent. “I had too much success, too much money, too much partying,” Clint said. 

Luckily, his passion for this art form was all encompassing.

“Did you know that no one knows how tattooing was started?” he asked. “I made sure my apprentices understood the history and the mystery about its beginnings. I wanted them to respect the art.”

He’s passionate when he described the responsibility of being allowed to change a person’s body-temple. It was a spiritual journey. Something to be honoured. He feels a connection, even today, with those he has tattooed. 

He left tattooing when the rebel in him was convinced that it had become too mainstream. 

He felt a big change was needed. This change was two-fold. One was planned; the other an accident.

He went back to his roots for this first change. The rebel in him found a voice as a council member of his band. 

He has worked for eight years trying to help bring change for his people. He is very proud of their Outma Salix W Cultural School, a place where children can learn the traditions, culture and language of his people.

“My daughter speaks our language better than me because of this school.”

The second change, working with metal, emerged as an accident.

Clint found a pile of metal bars in his dad’s metal-working shop. In his mind, he saw an arrow in that pile of scrap metal. He started to melt this steel into an arrow. 

As the heat intensified, the arrow became blue and stayed that way when it cooled. He covered the arrow with a coat of clear paint to protect it from rusting. A woman came into the shop and offered him $150 for it.

A new business was born.

Soon, he was making and selling arrows, traditional shields, and spears.

A commission to do an outdoor sculpture using native cultural guides changed his art. It became bigger and inspired by his people’s stories. 

This first outdoor sculpture, at the Westbank First Nation Health and Wellness Centre, depicts Ogopogo, Sen’klip (coyote), the trickster, teacher Kilawna and the lake.

The rebel in him isn’t as loud as it was. Teaching has become a force in his life. He enjoys teaching people to hunt and survive in the mountains. He works closely with the Penticton School District giving presentations on how to hunt and gather.

I like to ask about scary or funny moments. Clint’s scariest moment was in 2017. He had won the B.C. Archery Championship for the compound bow and was invited to be on the World Traditional Archery Team for a competition in South Korea. 

“I was competing, when, suddenly, North Korean jets came over the hill and flew extremely low over the heads of everyone — 500,000 people went completely still.

“That what frightening, and I had recovered from that, but the next day, air raid sirens started blaring. I was ready to swim home,” he said. 

You won’t find him on a web page nor at an art show. He sells his works too quickly, but he does have a Facebook site, Clint George Art.

He is building three huge sculptures for the Pelmewash Parkway Trail in Lake Country to be dedicated in late October.

He loves what he does, but knows most people don’t understand the mind of an artist. He describes his artist mind as “a wall of TVs, perhaps a hundred, all turned on at once. Every TV has a new story to build.”

Lucky for us, he is not likely to run out of stories to portray in metal any time soon. 


Activism is in his blood

Shae Ryga was shaped by a famous grandfather and an even more famous revolutionary.

And a teacher dad.

Their influences turned him into a unique young man, serious, and mature, beyond his 17 years.

His dad, Sergei, thought by naming him after Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, Shae would become a radical kid, forge his own path, question authority, and think freely. 

Shae, a songwriter, lyricist, drummer, guitarist, singer and producer, is still in high school, but understands who he is and what he wants to accomplish.

A brief look into his heredity will help you understand.

Shae’s paternal grandfather is George Ryga, the Canadian playwright, novelist and social activist. George’s parents came from the Ukraine in 1927 and settled on a small farm near Deer Creek in rural Alberta.

George didn’t speak English until he started school, quit at 13 to help on the farm, but continued to teach himself. 

The seeds of a true social activist were sown on that small farm. George, who felt marginalized as a foreigner, grew up next to a Cree reserve and was greatly influenced by their plight. He felt they had lost everything, even their language.

George’s life was a series of successes and awards given and taken away because he refused to soften his message. He made people aware of the dark side of humanity and of governments. 

He was relentless in his exposure of the downtrodden in society through his plays and books. He found peace and family in Summerland where he remained until his death in 1987. 

Shae, influenced by his grandfather’s writings, began his personal journey through books and writing.

“I read, read, and read, especially about the 1600s in Europe and anything about naval exploits in those days.”

Shae’s father picked up his musical influence from his father, who also wrote music and lyrics, often incorporating First Nation’s musical forms. 

Sergei is a well-respected teacher and musician, proficient on many instruments, in Lake Country.

”Dad said he would absolutely not teach me music. I had to want to learn. He gave me all the resources to learn. He didn’t want to influence me.”

Shae was undisciplined during the first years of drum lessons, and, since he didn’t have anyone watching him, didn’t practise. Finally, he realized he was wasting a precious gift his dad had given him, self-reliance. 

He loved playing drums, but the music of Cat Stevens inspired him at 14. He was captivated by the sound of the guitar with Stevens’ voice and lyrics. He had to learn how to play it. He became emotionally connected the more proficient he became and soon discovered music was his muse.

His activist roots come naturally.  He is a musical activist forging a new unique musical style.

His music is not alternative, indie, jazz, or pop. This style is still in the cauldron bubbling away to emerge as distinctive and individual as Shae is. 

It needs more time, but it will be something totally new when it emerges.

His album and video, Willow, is a testament to self-discovery. His solo trip to Hawaii influenced the lyrics and music for the album. The lyrics have heartbreak, sunshine, friendship lost and self-discovery all mixed together.

“I played all the instruments (except the sax), plus the vocals. I didn’t have the money to professionally produce it so I learned how to record, make and produce this album,” he said proudly.

Shae’s vocal sound is soft, clear, personal and inviting. It makes you feel that he has already experienced a lot.

“I want to commit myself to art. I will have to leave Kelowna to surround myself with artists,” he said.

Nashville is in his sights. No, he is not a lover of country music. “Nashville is a Mecca for songwriters, singers and recording studios.”

Where can you hear him?

He is a part of a band, Primary Colours, which performs at wineries and functions in the Okanagan.

  • Sergei Ryga – piano/vocals
  • Dan Margilino – drums/vocals
  • Cam Ward – bass
  • Ma’Afu Keteca – alto sac
  • Shae Ryga – guitar/vocals

You will also find him every year during the last week in August performing at Summerland’s Ryga Festival of the Arts, which celebrates George, and the arts and artists in the Okanagan. 

It is an interactive festival encompassing all the arts: physical, writing, visual, theatrical and musical.

Shae defined artistry as, “All humans experience the same things.  Artists use their skills to translate what they feel into art.”

I will gladly watch Shae as he finds his way and bask in the beauty of his gift.

Julia Child never served this

Sizzling, hot, spicy with an undercurrent of cool makes great salsa. Not the edible kind, the Major Mambo Latin Band kind.

Major Mambo isn’t an ordinary band. It’s four members with the combined musical experiences of generations. 

  • Tricia Dalgleish — piano/vocals
  • Maggie Ponzo Cotton — vocals/Latin percussion
  • Stephen Buck — bass
  • Trevor Salloum — Latin percussion/vocals

This foursome brings the sultry, sexy sounds of Latin America to Kelowna.

Great tasting salsa needs the finest ingredients, so does a great salsa sound. Trevor Salloum masterminded the spicy sound of Major Mambo over time. 

It grew out of Ritmo Caliente (Hot Rhythm), an instrumental group in Kelowna in the early 2000s, into the Major Mambo sound we know today. 

Founder Trevor started playing the drums early. 

“I had my first professional gig at 12, a New Year’s Eve party,” he said. “I played a kit (regular multi drum set) in those days.

“I discovered my first Cuban percussion set in the ’70s.”

He studied English and music at York University in Toronto, and started working immediately out of school. The more he worked as a drummer, the more disillusioned he became with the lifestyle.

“Late nights for an early riser didn’t work.” 

He became a naturopathic doctor instead: better hours. 

The humid and humanistic lure of Latin rhythms kept him involved playing locally. Today, retired from his medical practice, he teaches, plays, promotes, and books the band. 

What’s salsa without heat? 

Hot, hot, hot are the vocals from Maggie Ponzo Cotton. The hard-working co-owner of a house-cleaning business and mother by day, is a fiery singer by night. 

Major Mambo comes alive with her deep, beautifully expressive voice and vibrant personality. 

Mazatlan born, she married and moved to Kelowna.

She came to singing rather serendipitously. She met Trevor and Tricia through music lessons and was encouraged by Trevor to sing. 

“Singing is who we are,” Maggie said with a smile. “Mexicans sing all the time. Nothing is written down. We all are little parrots. We are very noisy and fun-loving. 

“My children can’t believe the change in me when I’m back home.”

A refreshing combination of classical Cuban Latin sounds with current pop music makes salsa so palatable to the Canadian audiences. 

Maggie brings the new pop/Latin music to the group for consideration.

When Maggie brings new songs, she gives them to Tricia Dalgleish.

Tricia started playing the piano when she was five. Although classically trained, at 15, she started playing by ear — hearing music and being able to reproduce it without it being written down. 

Blazing piano playing doesn’t happen overnight. It is an art. Tricia has it.

Born in Kamloops, she soon moved to Oyama, became an LPN, played on cruise ships, lived in Hawaii. While taking a course in Guatemala, she was introduced to the rhythms of Latin music. She never forgot them. 

She has had a love of both classical music and intoxicating Latin rhythms since. 

Don’t be fooled by her soft demeanour, she is sizzling on the keys. Tricia is a very quiet, but powerful leader, the organizer-music writer for the band. 

She plays by ear what Maggie brings, writes it down, and organizes it for the group. By having the music written, it enables the group to have guest artists join them. 

Major Mambo is solid, but fluid at the same time. They welcome guest artists.

“It just depends on whether we can pay them or not,” Stephen said with a chuckle.

To listen to Major Mambo is to want to dance. You can’t sit still. I know. I have experienced the driving pulse, the cool, cool pulsating bass playing of Stephen Buck. It’s all about the bass and Stephen is a dynamic player. 

Major Mambo is the only time you’ll hear him play bass though. He is a world-renowned artist on different instruments.

“I’m a woodwind doubler – equally proficient on the clarinet and sax,” he said.

Stephen is comfortable with all genres of music, and has played professionally all around the world, in every major city. He was born in London, Ont., but has lived in practically every country imaginable. Lucky for us, he settled in Kelowna. 

I asked him why Major Mambo. 

“This group is more than a band. Bands are loosely gathered musicians fulfilling a gig. You may be together for a year, travelling with a show but it is still a gig. Major Mambo has become a family, something that is very rare and special. It brings back the joy of performing.”

What is next? Writing their own music, playing at major festivals and exploring the essence of Latin music. No limitations on what they want to do.

Where do you find them? 

Their favourite haunt is Soul De Cuba Café. 

“We really let our hair down there. It feels like home. They are definitely like family,” Maggie said. 

You can also find them on a summer evening and, perhaps for dinner, this winter at Vibrant Vines Winery.

Keep a good eye out in the papers for their next gig. They sell out quickly. They are available for corporate gigs, weddings, restaurants, dances, resorts, you name it.

This sizzling, hot, spicy, and oh, so cool salsa band comes with a warning: Don’t come unless you like to dance, because you will find yourself dancing the night away.

To book them, contact Trevor Salloum.  www.trevorsalloum.com or facebook.com/salsabandkelowna.


A singer and her song

Smokey, dark, dense. An Okanagan summer fire?

No. The beautiful voice of Anna Jacyszn. 

She is a jazz singer to be envied, a promoter, songwriter and wife. Her life reads like a Hollywood movie. A very interesting one.

Little Anna was born fatherless in Warsaw, Poland. Her father, a preacher man, was killed in a motorcycle accident two months before her birth. 

Eventually, her mother married another preacher man/carpenter who took them to Ontario.

“This combined family was definitely like The Brady Bunch,” Anna said with a laugh. “There were 10 of us.”

Just like a movie, tragedy struck on a family vacation. They was heading to a friend’s in B.C. when the van hit black ice and they went over a cliff. 

Anna’s face was smashed, but her father sustained serious enough injuries that he had to remain in Kelowna General Hospital for a long time, so they found a home here.

They loved it and, after his release, they stayed.

Anna listened to her dad's short wave radio whenever she could and was drawn to England by the lure of the songs she heard.

While her friends were having fun, she was working many jobs, saving money to move to England the first chance she got. 

“My fondest memory of high school was the Grad Talent Show, KSS 1984,” Anna said. 

“Airband was really popular and I sang It’s Raining Men. They thought I was air banding. They couldn’t believe I had sung it.”

The movie changes location. 

We find Anna on her 19th birthday in London, England. Her first job is at the private-member jazz club Zanzibar. She was a membership secretary by day and, believe it or not, a coat check girl by night. 

“I was seriously star struck in those days,” she said. 

This club not only introduced her to jazz, but it was also a who’s who of the biggest names in the music business and social register of England. 

“I’d scream into the phone to my friend in Canada and say, ‘Annie Lennox is here tonight. Duran Duran are here.’ I’d then turn around and so nonchalantly take their coats.” 

She soon started singing and getting the odd gig.

While she was honing her singing skills, she began to work for the David Harper Management Company, and Wasted Talent Media touring company. 

These two agencies booked all the current stars. One of Anna’s jobs was to make sure the riders (special concessions the stars demand) were fulfilled. 

“Mariah Carey always wanted puppies in her dressing rooms,” Anna told me. “Van Morrison always wanted Colt cigars and whiskey.”

Singing lessons were expensive, so promoter Anna was always looking for ways to increase her earnings.

“I had a friend who was a fantastic chef. If we needed to make some money, we would go to a small town and see a restaurant that was under performing.  

“My friend would remake the menu and I would promote and bring in people to their establishment for a percentage of their take. 

“Who knew it would be a very successful TV show in the future? We were just having fun.”

Movie location changes over 20 years include the cities and places her voice took her.

  • Singapore
  • Monaco
  • Beijing
  • Brazil
  • Shanghai
  • Japan
  • Kelowna.

What’s a great movie without more tragedy and happiness? 

Anna returned to Kelowna in the early 2000s to help her mom care for her father, who had Alzheimer’s disease. She also fell in love and married “a lovely English gentleman, Andrew.”

In 2009, she founded The Jazz Café, a band that performs to sold-out audiences in the Black Box. 

She soon scooped up many civic awards in the intervening years:?

  • Civic Award: The honour of the Arts
  • The Okanagan Arts award for music
  • The Spirit of Kelowna Award
  • A Proclamation Citation from the Okanagan Institute for Raising the Bar in musical quality and standard in the Okanagan to name a few.

Since we were just two singers talking on a summer’s day, I had to ask how she feels about jazz as a performing platform. 

“Singing jazz is an art in deconstruction of the music. The words are the inspiration. You need to ingest them and then let them form the music not the other way around.”

She sings a bit from Summertime, Porgy and Bess to demonstrate how the melody is internalized and then given back. 

The final note came from her toes I’m sure. Wow! No one could ever doubt her ability to sing after hearing that.

The movie is on temporary hold due to COVID-19. 

Anna, the songwriter, is dusting off the many books she has of music-song ideas from her past. 

She will be presenting these in 2021 at the Black Box. Her most exciting project is the two-woman show, Always Patsy Cline, which she will be singing and performing with Janet Anderson, 2020 Kelowna Actor of the Year, in November, 2021.

I will be buying a ticket to hear that sensuous, velvety voice. Her smile isn’t bad either.

The movie, I hope, will continue for many, many years.

More Don't mess with a soprano articles

About the Author

Sue Skinner is a singer of opera and musical theatre, a choral conductor and a teacher/coach of voice. 

She has travelled the world, learned many languages, seen every little town in Alberta and supported herself with music all her life.

She has sung at weddings, funerals, musicals, operettas, opera, with symphonies, guitars, jazz groups, rock bands and at play schools. 

Skinner has taken two choirs to Carnegie Hall, sung around the world, and teaches for Wentworth Music on Zoom.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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