Zambezi ignites crowd at CenterStage with lively concerts

The Zambezi Marimba Band performed not just a concert but created a unique and jubilant event this Friday and Saturday night at the Club Zambezi Dance Party. Students, parents, children and senior citizens shared in Zambezi’s lively experience at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance’s CenterStage.

Audience members entered the CenterStage to seating arranged around an open floor. Lights projected on the walls and floor in a colorful tropical leaf pattern, and marimbas awaited their musicians at one end of the floor. There was no elevated stage; all participants occupied the same level. Just after 8 p.m., the dim lights went out almost completely and Emily Levy ’13 walked out from behind audience seating, greeted by cheers. Levy began playing marimba, while other band members walked out individually from different corners of the room to join her. Dressed in black shirts or tank tops with jeans and no shoes, the instrumentalists reiterated the casual atmosphere of the music and setting. Soon all 11 members: Levy, Zoe Kline ’13, Olivia Uhlman ’13, Bryce Mitsunaga ’13, Ali Graebner ’14, Nile Livingston ’15, Isy Abraham-Raveson ’15, Julia Damion ’15, Ruby Froom ’16, Ali Bunis ’16 and Todd Hall ’16, had taken their places and the concert was in full swing.

The first song, “Numbers,” was representative of the rest of the night, with prominent marimbas and various accompanying instruments that grounded and embellished the marimbas’ quick, sharp percussion. The musicians often switched instruments between songs, showcasing their flexibility and talent. Instruments played throughout the night included one bass, one baritone, two tenor and two soprano marimbas, congas, guiro, shakers, cowbell, guitar and piano. Uhlman and Abraham-Raveson played violin in several songs, including the very emotive and impressive “Angola,” while Froom added authenticity to two traditional songs with the Zimbabwean mbira. The style was clearly African, but had what sounded like Caribbean and Latin influences at times. Up-tempo and varied with pops of sound, the music inspired excitement. The audience remained seated, but enjoyed this first song, tapping their feet and moving to the music.

Tendai Muparutsa, visiting artist in residence in African music performance, who arranges, composes, transcribes and teaches Zambezi appeared after the first song. After Muparutsa introduced the first and second songs, Damion began playing “Muzvambarara” on the piano. After only a few notes Muparutsa interjected, announcing this was “not a sit-down show” and encouraging the crowd to fill the floor in front of the band. More than half the room obliged, bouncing, clapping and waving their hands in the air as the band resumed “Muzvambarara” with vocals by Muparutsa. The crowd danced for the rest of the night, resting only during interludes and briefly between songs when the lights came down and the band prepared for the next song. Several band members and Muparutsa, sporting shakers on his shins, often came out into the crowd. Two audience members danced with Muparutsa, providing a spectacle in itself, and several improvised dance circles emerged throughout the night – one around an ecstatic preschool aged boy. Some songs were quieter than others and many offered distinct differences in tone, but none were conducive to sitting or slow dancing. Near the middle of the performance, Zambezi performed a song from Muparutsa’s country, Zimbabwe. One of my favorite numbers of the night, “Nhemamusasa,” had a smoother quality than the otherwise percussion-filled night with the addition of guitar. Froom and Muparutsa sang a duet on this song, Froom’s voice strongly complimented Muparutsa’s lower register. The song was accessible to the audience, some of whom sang along to the repetitive chorus.

Muparutsa then announced the band would play “something from the United States” and introduced “Show Me Love.” Much more interesting and exuberant than the original, Damien’s piano infused elements of jazz into the song, while some of the crowd came closer to dance right next to the band and their instruments. Without any lyrics, the song evoked pure joy. All songs exuded delight, but elements of passion and longing made occasional appearances, as in certain sections of “Angola.” “Chem’tengure” included the closest intimation of sadness, as Muparutsa began a passionate call and response with the band members. The sorrowful sentiment didn’t even survive an entire song as the tempo quickly picked back up and the night’s cheerful tone was revived. Rhythm and tempo changes mid-song maintained audience interest and excitement. Before the last song, Muparutsa introduced each member of the band. One at a time, the instrumentalists joined in on their final song, “Tora Uta.” The beat started slow but instantly became very fast, and the crowd danced with renewed energy for the last time. Abruptly, with a jump from Muparutsa, the song ended and all the lights went out. The night was over an hour after it had begun. The band bowed and exited, amid calls for an encore.

Muparutsa’s earlier statement, “We are having fun; if you are not, sorry,” seems to best convey the dedication and joy of the band. He need not worry; the crowd certainly shared Zambezi’s enthusiasm.