June 18- June 25, 2009
The way to Zimbabwe
The world-famous ZimFest finally comes
by Christian Arcand
Next weekend Boulder will be treated to a music festival unlike any other when ZimFest 2009 hits the Flatirons. Formed in 1991, the ZimFest is a celebration of Zimbabwean music and culture. It began in Seattle, as students of the late Dr. Dumisani Maraire (a musician and ethnomusicologist who first introduced the pacific northwest to the music and instrumentation of Zimbabwe’s Shona people) organized a series of performances and workshops highlighting and celebrating the ancient tradition of Shona music that has transformed over the years and is still very much a part of Africa’s modern music scene.
“It is called the ZimFest, but the music of the Shona people is spread all throughout sub-Saharan Africa,” says Darcie Sanders, a member of the African-marimba band Pick Up Sticks and festival volunteer for ZimFest in Boulder. “It originated in Zimbabwe, but there are 9 million Shona people all over the continent. The influence is quite large. I am so excited to have this festival here in Boulder. My only question is, ‘What took so long?’”
Amy Stewart, program director at Boulder’s local Kutandara Center and ZimFest Steering Committee member, has attended ZimFest 12 years in a row as both a performer and teacher and shares Sanders’ enthusiasm over its emergence in Boulder.
“ZimFest started up in the Pacific Northwest, and it took those areas a while to realize how big Boulder’s scene was. This year the board finally invited Boulder to host the festival, and the town accepted.”
The reason it has taken ZimFest 18 years to make its way to Boulder, or anywhere the least bit east of the left coast, is because the festival originated as a small gathering of students and enthusiasts in Seattle. The intent was to celebrate the teachings of Dr. Maraire and Zimbabwean culture in general. At the time, the originators of this small Seattle gathering had no idea that it would eventually grow into a multi-day festival with such an overwhelming international flavor attended by Americans of all ages, races and backgrounds.
Eventually, ZimFest made its way out of Seattle and down the West Coast. With interest piqued at every stop, expansion was the
festival’s only option, and in this, its 18th year in existence, ZimFest has finally made its way to Boulder.
The festival will be comprised of daily workshops and activities paired with nightly performances at the famous Boulder Theater.
Kids, parents and music enthusiasts of all genres and backgrounds are welcome and encouraged to participate in the workshops all around Boulder, where instruments will be provided and music will be made. What’s more, Mike Kang from String Cheese Incident will be in town for the event, as well, running a workshop and performing with the multi-platinum African band Panjea on Saturday, June 27.
Panjea is fronted by Los Angeles native Chris Berry, who left sunny southern California at the age of 18 for the extremely sunny Brazzaville area of the Congo to study music. His infatuation with the mbira, or “thumb piano,” led him to Zimbabwe, where he immersed himself in the culture to the point that his Western roots were practically forgotten by the musicians he studied with.
“Chris was my first teacher,” says Stewart. “I have stayed in contact with him throughout his career and travels. What began as a passion for this music has become something bigger now, and he has everyone’s blessing.”
Bigger, indeed. Panjea has been phenomenally successful in Africa, fusing traditional spirited rhythms with more modern sound techniques, and despite the fact that Berry is not a native of Zimbabwe or a Shona, he has been accepted by the elder mbira masters as one of their own. On top of all that, Kang from String Cheese, Panjea’s newest member, will be sitting in with them on Saturday night.
“All of the performances are going to be fantastic,” says Stewart. “The acoustics in the Boulder Theater are just perfect for this style of music. It is rare for a ZimFest performance to take place in such a large and legendary venue; they are usually smaller.”
Participants in the Panj-Orchestra “Performance Track” workshop will get to perform on stage with Panjea on the June 27. This is a first for ZimFest and looks to be the most popular of the workshops.
Along with the performances, there will be workshops all throughout Boulder and even some tours and field trips that interested parties can join. Local tour guide Banjo Billy will be making his rounds all throughout the festival, and another bus will be going back and forth to the Chapungu Sculpture Park in Loveland to raise awareness of another vital part of Zimbabwe’s rich culture: stone sculpting.
Back in Boulder, there will be storytelling, music lessons, and arts and crafts for kids. Workshops will be offered during the afternoons, and each day will conclude with a performance at the Boulder Theater. The workshops range from lectures to music lessons, and with Boulder’s flourishing African-music scene, they will likely be very well attended.
“I would get there early to make sure you get a spot. They will probably go fast,” says Sanders.
One must register online for the workshops, as a big turnout is expected. However, the registration process is very straightforward.
The only issue anyone may have is deciding which activities to sign up for. There will be one session each morning and two each afternoon, and you can sign up for as many or as few as you like on a class-by-class basis. While the actual festival does not begin until next Thursday, the schedule for pre-fest events is available online, as well, with fun stuff to do pretty much every single day of the week. On Thursday morning at 10 a.m. in Central Park, the festival will kick off with a live performance and opening ceremony at which lunch will be served. The first workshops begin at 1 p.m.
It’s often been said that Boulder is a social/geographical “bubble,” and while that is a tough point to argue, sometimes the bubble is visited by people from halfway across the planet with a very rich culture and incredibly powerful music that has been passed on for generations. Whether one can set some time aside for a quick drum lesson (and let’s face it folks, the drum circles around town could certainly use a little new blood) or catch a performance at the Boulder Theater, take some time to experience this festival. If all goes well, you can say you were at the first of many ZimFests in Boulder.
For More Info:
ZimFest will take place June 25-28 at various locations around Boulder. For a complete schedule of events and to purchase tickets, go to www.ZimFest.org
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