The Zimbabwean Music Festival will come to the Inland Northwest for the first time in 21 years this August and give people around the Palouse a chance to dance to the melodies of Africa.
JoAnn Evans, Zimfest organizing committee member, said the festival’s concerts will be energetic and sociable.
“All the concerts are get-up-and-move concerts,” she said. “You don’t just sit in your seat. This is happy music and it’s moving music.”
Evans said Zimfest provides exposure to new cultural music and instruments. Folks new to the festival will find it positive and exciting, she said. The quality of performances will be particularly noteworthy.
“The fluency (with which) the Zimbabweans perform is unbelievable,” she said.
Mary Donohoe, co-committee member, said one musical element newcomers might find unique is mbira — the name of both an instrument and the music it helps create. The millennium-old mbira is a wooden plank fitted with metal keys, similar to a xylophone, and it’s central to the Shona people who comprise the largest population group of Zimbabwe. Donohoe said the mbira concerts will have a complex sound that is different from the marimba styles people may have heard, but they will enjoy its peaceful energy.
“It’s something that is very relaxing, very calming, but also maybe a little bit mesmerizing,” she said.
Zimfest will also offer myriad workshops for novice through advanced skill levels in everything from mbira (a traditional Zimbabwean instrument) to dance, drums, language and cultural studies. Evans and Donohoe are both members of two distinct marimba bands playing at the festival — Sesitshaya Marimba Ensemble and Chiroto Marimba Ensemble — and have each participated in previous workshops. Though Evans had already been involved with Sesitshaya, her first year at the festival in 2007 was “a real eye opener” and her first experience with marimba lessons, she said.
“Whenever I go, I always learn something new that I can steal and put into my own repertoire,” Evans said. “It’s a learning experience for everyone.”
Donohoe said age isn’t an issue and while some folks have more aptitude than others, everyone can have fun.
“This is elemental music that is available to everybody,” Donohoe said. “If you have any ounce of music in your body you are, on some level, going to be able to perform (it) to your satisfaction.”
Donohoe said being physically active and performing music at the same time is a “wonderful, enlivening experience” for her, and the concerts create music with the audience as much as the musicians. She said this reciprocal atmosphere is “absolutely electric.”
There’s much joy in the music, she said, and it’s made a special impact on national and community levels.
“Anybody who gets exposed to it kind of wakes up and they start to feel music in their body maybe in a new way,” she said.
Donohoe said this music has helped the Zimbabwean people remain strong through adversity, and their peacefulness has in turn influenced their music and culture.
“They find ways to carry on in hardship, and the music is of fundamental importance to that,” she said.
While the inland location of Zimfest may require some to travel long distances, Donohoe said the reward is worthwhile. No single community can provide the breadth of talent or variety of music and skills gathered at Zimfest, she said.
Evans said the evening concerts will showcase some artists who don’t follow such festivals. She said a successful 2012 Zimfest could open doors further inland, such as Montana and Utah, and in cities like Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Boise. Whatever the festival’s future, she said she hopes people simply have a great time at this one.
“The main thing we want…is to have a good quality festival with people who will learn something and go home with good memories, and also that the local people will enjoy (it) and feel that it was very well worth their time,” she said.
Early registration closes this Thursday but can be purchased at the door. Information can be found on workshops and availability, concert schedules and more at the Zimfest website.
Matt Maw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org