Origin of Zimbabwean marimba


Background Notes
The marimba ensemble and it’s music

    To understand aspects of this musical culture, you need to understand the origin of the Zimbabwean marimba. It was in the 1960s that the Kwanangoma College of Music was founded in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (then called Southern Rhodesia). It was there that the seeds were planted which have since sprouted on our distant shore. A group of visionary teachers and social activists had resolved to open an arts school dedicated to both preserving tradition native music forms and giving talented local students a chance to receive world class musical instruction. The British colonial government was persuaded to fund the project and the school opened its doors in the late sixties. Immediately they were faced with a need for instruments and the question as to which types of instruments would best serve the school. They had to be inexpensive; could be manufactured by the students; be adaptable to both traditional and contemporary music; could be played by groups of various sizes and did not give undue preference to the instrument of one Zimbabwean cultural group over another. After much deliberation, a form of xylophone (tuned wooden bars struck with mallets) was chosen. Although this type of instrument is found traditionally in neighboring Botswana and Mozambique, and in fact all over Africa, it was not significant in the traditional music of Zimbabwe. The standard set came to consist of a bass, a baritone, 1-2 tenors and 2 or more sopranos played by 5-9 musicians. They are called marimbas because of their similarity to western orchestral marimbas.

    The teachers at Kwanangoma adapted traditional Zimbabwean vocal, rhythm and mbira music to these instruments, and also created arrangements of contemporary songs, both western and Zimbabwean. The marimba ensembles started to become popular and groups often in schools, began popping up outside Kwanangoma. And that is how marimba bands came to be in Zimbabwe.

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