If peace and love are outdated notions in this volatile world, then Maria Kucparic didn’t get the memo.
The continent-trotting folk singer, known for her angelic voice and idyllic compositions, is becoming a familiar presence in the music scene of her native Flin Flon.
“When I see people responding positively by smiling, dancing, shedding a tear, singing along or tapping their feet a bit, I am reminded that this is my gift,” says Kucparic, who goes by the stage name Maria Mango.
Though Kucparic has been recording albums and travelling as a musician for more than 11 years, she has performed on relatively few occasions in Flin Flon.
Where it began
That is beginning to change now that Kucparic, 34, has moved back to the community where it all began.
She has been singing since she was a precocious little girl who would make up songs and record them on her cassette player. Sometimes she would even jump up on the coffee table and perform for whoever would listen.
Kucparic sang soprano in choirs throughout elementary and high school. At 14, she started learning to play the guitar, spending hours mastering a huge repertoire of mostly obscure cover songs.
When she moved to Winnipeg to attend university, she began busking on the street and, in time, performing at open mike nights around the city.
Music became her life, so in the spring of 2001 Kucparic grabbed a guitar and backpack and hit the open road.
Her let-the-chips-fall travels landed her on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where she chose her stage name while penning a song under a mango tree.
It wasn’t the first time nature had influenced her music. Growing up in Flin Flon, Kucparic spent a lot of time listening to the birds sing and the leaves rustle.
“In the northern quietude, I learned to listen deeply and pay attention to subtle details,” she says. “I also think that the long winters up here incubate a lot of creativity in general. You have to find some creative way to not go crazy when you have to cozy up indoors for half of the year.”
In 2003 Kucparic released her first album as Maria Mango, called Playing for Change. The double-entendred title reflected not only her vocation as a street musician, but also her heartfelt desire to see her youthful idealism come true.
That same year Kucparic became something of a fixture in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, known for its long history of hippie subculture.
She even garnered an 1,100-word piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. In the accompanying photo, Kucparic, clad in a pink flower dress and oversized sunglasses, stands in bright contrast to the grim-looking neighbourhood.
Kucparic has grown as a musician since those days, but at her core she is still all about spreading the love. Among her songs: “All My Love”, “Gotta Love Yourself”, “Livin Da Life of Love”, “Love Unrequited” and “They Say Love is Blind”.
Even without “love” in the title, her tunes convey warm and fuzzy emotions. To wit: “I Forgive You (I Forgive Me Too)”, “How to Feed Two Birds with One Crumb” and, one of her fan favourites, “Grandma”.
Kucparic’s lyrics are Prozac for the soul, her voice a powerful yet soothing experience reminiscent of a young Joni Mitchell. Some of her biggest fans weren’t even into folk music until they heard her.
“Anyone with ears and a heart,” she says when asked to describe her target audience. “It’s really diverse. I’ve entertained everyone from children to senior citizens, college students to homeless people, Christians in a church to drunks in a bar. I’ve got a little something for everyone.”
Since Playing for Change, Maria Mango has released three follow-up albums: More Amor Ahora!, North Star Road and Ideal Real, the cover of which bears a painting of Kucparic, a flower in her hair, singing in the middle of the tropics.
Since moving back to Flin Flon last year, Kucparic has been impressed with – and proud to be a part of – the local performing arts.
“There are so many talented people here,” she says. “It’s fun putting events together to get them to come out of the woodwork so they can share their gifts. Unlike a city with hundreds of things to do, not too much is happening unless we ourselves make it happen, and I appreciate the way we get to participate in creating our own local culture here.”
Even after all these years, Kucparic – or, rather, Maria Mango – admits she still gets butterflies before stepping on stage.
“But once I start strumming and singing and getting into the songs, I begin to embody the emotions in them,” she says. “And that’s all that exists in that moment.”
Maria Mango will perform at Johnny’s Social Club tomorrow, Aug. 9. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Admission will be charged, but children can attend for free.