Davie man's flute-making skills benefit children in Nicaragua
November 3, 2013|By Ihosvani Rodriguez, Sun Sentinel
There is a lush bamboo jungle within the cowboy town of Davie belonging to a flutemaker whose wind instruments have blown harmony to children in another part of the world.
For years, Erik Sampson, who goes by the name of Erik The Flutemaker, has been harvesting his impressive collection of bamboo shoots he grows from his one-acre ranch home in Davie.
Sampson, 61, has made a living by handcrafting the shoots into a wide collection of wind instruments, including Andean pan pipes, two-penny whistles, Oriental flutes, meditation flutes and even a unique bamboo sax.
And now, the Davie-produced flutes are playing a role in the cultivation of a special home in Somoto, Nicaragua, which houses 25 poverty-stricken children and a nearby farm.
"It was God's mercy that put us together with Erik and how his flutes have helped build this home," said Pastor Carlos Baez, who took up the care for the children and now oversees the home and farm.
"Something as simple as a flute has changed the lives of so many of the children here," he added.
Flutemaker Ministries, a non-profit group created by Sampson, teamed up with other charity groups to build the two-story home that now houses the children in Nicaragua.
The 24-acre farm in the nearby town of Jalapa now produces corn, beans, yucca and peppers. The food helps fund the farm and lowers the monthly food budget at the children's home, Sampson said.
"When I got to these kids, my heart was just gripped, and I could not just walk away from them," Sampson said inside his wooden studio in Davie, situated inside his bamboo fields.
It was during a missionary trip to Cascabel, Nicaragua, in 2006 that the flutemaker began devoting his craft toward helping the Kids of Cascabel, a group of children who used to spend their days sifting through a dump site for recyclable materials and other things to peddle, Baez said in a telephone interview from Nicaragua. The children lived in one-room houses, some without beds or water, and never went to school, he said.
Sampson said he met the children while doing a puppet show as part of his ministry travels across Latin America. Soon after his trip, Sampson started the Flutemaker Ministries, which in addition to private donations, raises funds by selling flutes that the master flutemaker deems not up to his high standards.
"If the flute happens to have a little bit of a bend or too wide, or maybe rubbed too hard by another bamboo, if there was some type of blemish on it, we knew that would move cheaper and I was happy todonate that as the Cascabel flutes," he said.
Private donations, as well as the proceeds from faulty flutes being sold at a discount, went toward the construction of the two-story home, which took two and a half years to build, Sampson said.
Inside his workshop tucked in the middle of his bamboo forest (temperature is kept at 72 degrees for ideal flute tuning), two large bins are filled with "Cascabel flutes" ready to be sold.
While Sampson's charity in Nicaragua has been his passion in recent years, his use of flutes to spread bamboo music and help others date back more than four decades, he said.
Sampson picked up flute playing sometime after joining an anti-Vietnam War theater group in 1969 at the age of 17, he said. Sampson began incorporating his flute playing as part of a street-theater act that involved mime work and storytelling, he said.
Sampson said he spent the next few years as the perennial hippie, living in communes and traveling the world. That included a walking stint through South America and adopting the name Santo Banano (Saint Banana).
The flute player eventually became the flutemaker in 1971 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, when he came upon a street beggar. Sampson said he gave the beggar his best flute thinking the man would make more friends and make more money than just holding out his hat and waiting for a coin to fall in.
Hours later, with a sudden desire to make his own flute, Sampson began searching for bamboo. Through trial and error, Sampson taught himself to whittle out a flute. He made his first sale in Guatemala, selling a flute along with an elaborate drawing on the streets for a buck.
Sampson became "born again"in 1974 and eventually settled in Florida, lured largely by the great flute-making bamboo called "Bambusa Multiplex." Such bamboo originated in southern China and appeared in Japan before finding its way to Florida.
It wasn't until Sampson began working for the children in Nicaragua that he realized that his flute-making was something more meaningful than crafting a bamboo instrument, he said.
"Flute-making is what I was good at, and I could make them available for support," he said. "I had walked away from many opportunities that I regretted that I did not stop to help.
Erik the Flutemaker
14701 SW 18th Court
Davie, FL 33325