Marimba music from the Shona peoples of Zimbabwe is an exciting musical form which inspires dance and joy! The music ranges from complex fast driving polyrhythms to slow trance-like pieces. Some characteristics of traditional Shona music include call and response form, interlocking melodies that repeat in circular fashion, double metric patterns and rhythmic cross patterns played by shakers, drums, and buzzing sounds which are produced on the marimba by cellophane covered holes on the resonators. The music is highly infectious, joyous, upbeat, and wonderful to dance to.
Marimbas are finely crafted xylophones made from hardwoods such as vermilion, mahogany and peduk. The keys are fine-tuned to reflect the tones played in African societies. Each key has a resonator which amplifies the sound, producing a unique musical effect–from the clear, bell-like tones of the soprano marimba to the deep, percussive tones of the bass. Marimbas are about five feet long; their heights vary from two feet to more than five feet. The ensemble of instruments creates music that is exciting to listen to…and wonderful for dancing! The music has a universal quality that appeals all ages and backgrounds.
African marimba music sounds unique to North American audiences because most of the marimba music played in the Western Hemisphere has been South American. However, marimbas originated in Africa hundreds of years ago and were imported to South America in the sixteenth century. The original African sounds were incorporated into and changed by the music of the local cultures.
It is only within the last thirty years that Shona marimba music has flourished in the United States, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. At one time live marimba music could be heard only in a limited areas of the West Coast. Now it has expanded worldwide including Hawaii where there are two groups one on Maui and one on the Big Island.