The weekend of Winter Carnival was infused with some fun when the Zambezi Marimba Ensemble held their Zambezi Club Dance Party this past Friday night and Saturday afternoon in Greylock Dining Hall. Unlike the group’s typical performances, audience members were encouraged not to watch and listen calmly from their seats, but rather to, as the event’s title suggests, get up and dance.
Saturday afternoon’s concert was geared especially toward families in the community, but Friday’s performance, despite its potentially inconvenient time, proved equally family-friendly, hosting some Williamstown locals along with students from the College. Unlike the usual First Fridays darkness, Greylock was fully and cheerfully lit for the concert. The ensemble, directed by Visiting Artist in Residence in African Music Performance Tendai Muparutsu, was stationed in place of the DJ booth, and the musicians wore their customary brightly colored t-shirts adding to the atmosphere of frivolity. Chairs lined the perimeter of the dance floor for those audience members who wanted to enjoy the music while seated.
Zambezi combines an unusually wide range of instruments – from the marimba (a xylophone-like percussion instrument) to the harp to the trumpet – in order to create its upbeat, melodic sound, playing music native to Zambi and Zimbabwe. The members of the ensemble played each instrument with impressive energy, with Muparutsu and Ruby Froom ’16 providing equally energetic and sonorous vocals on a few songs, and highlights included trumpet solos by Marshall Alexander ’17. In keeping with their usual standards, the performance was lively and joyful, continually daring the audience to dance.
The ensemble often provides accompaniment for Kusika, the College’s African dance group, so its musicians are used to encouraging movement. At the beginning of the event, however, it didn’t seem as though they would have a chance of success. Most of the audience watched from their seats, enjoying Zambezi’s bouncing beats and perhaps tapping a foot, but only a lonely few were bold enough to remove their shoes and take to the floor; at that point, the sparse dance crowd was just as much a part of the performance as the ensemble.
Soon, however, members of Zambezi left their posts and ventured into the hesitant crowd, giving their hand-held percussion instruments, like maracas and shekeres, to dancers and sitters alike. Those on the dance floor joined the band in creating Zambezi’s signature layered percussion sound. “In comparison to a [typical] concert, it had much more audience engagement,” said ensemble member Cindy Liao ’17. “Instead of us having fun and the audience having fun separate from us, we were having fun together.”
Indeed, the second half of the concert proved to be a fun fusion of audience and ensemble. Zambezi members continually filtered through the crowd, playing their instruments as they danced alongside their friends and fans. As more and more people joined the dance, shy, seated audience members weakened in their resistance and were pulled onto the floor by Zambezi’s infectious tunes (and often literally by its persuasive members). The dance floor was never packed, nor was the concert itself, but the relatively modest crowd remained enthusiastic and responsive, just as the musicians of Zambezi remained spirited and bright. The event ended earlier than originally planned so that ensemble members and audience members alike could see another treat of the night: the fireworks at Poker Flats. The Zambezi Club Dance Party was a small dance party, but it was nonetheless one which added some much needed warmth to a cold wintery New England weekend.