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March 16, 2017

A Passion for the Marimba
Ottawa Baha’i Zvondai Muchenje, shares his love for music, teaching and marimbas

A Passion for the MarimbaWhen you walk into Zvondai Muchenje’s living room in Ottawa the first thing you notice is a big marimba next to a piano. Zvondai’s love for the marimba is immediately apparent. For the past nine years he has been sharing this love with children and adults, having formed a children’s marimba band called the Colour of Diversity and an adult band called Tine Rufaro (We Bring Joy).

How did all this musical richness start?  As a child Zvondai had played drums in his native Zambia and then as a teenager he learned marimba, playing by ear the traditional music of the Shona, Zimbabwe people, that has been passed along orally for thousands of years.
After coming to Ottawa he missed this traditional music and purchased his first marimba from British Columbia in 2006.   Soon he began not just playing the instrument but building his own marimbas. As he said “when you have a passion for something it is not that hard.” By 2008 he had five marimbas and three little children of his own. It was time to start a marimba Band.

A Passion for the Marimba“As a Baha’i I wanted my kids to enjoy going to Baha’i activities, like monthly gatherings called Feasts and Baha’i Holy Days. So I formed The Colour of Diversity Band so that they could develop a talent and have something to share at Baha’i functions—something they loved.”

When they began, Zvondai explained, there were only five children, feeling shy and embarrassed to perform before others. Now there are seven children in the band and they can “wow their audiences” with their ability to make breaks and restart all together. There are also fourteen children he is teaching. This means Zvondai has built seven marimbas—one large bass, one baritone, two tenors, and three sopranos--and has spent many Saturday afternoons teaching children.

Nowadays the children do not just play at Baha’i activities. They reach out into the community around them and play at senior residences, low income sites like Ottawa Community Housing projects and, in November, at City Hall for the mayor at an interfaith meeting. Furthermore, the band no longer consists of only Baha’i children as others have joined them.

A Passion for the MarimbaSome of the kids from the first group in 2008 are in university now, but they still enjoy playing with the band when they come home for breaks. As Zvondai points out, playing in the band “builds memories. It is an important part of their lives.”

Zvondai’s love of music extends to playing gigs with his adult marimba band as far away as Cornwall, Kingston and Peterborough and teachings workshops in secondary schools and classes for children and adults every Friday night in New Edinburgh. He is also looking forward to building a new marimba this summer. When you love something, nothing is too hard.

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