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Zimbira takes stage at iAM Music fest

Zimbira is a band born from musical education. Do you want to learn how to drive? Get behind the wheel of a car. Want to learn how to play a particular style of music? Form a group that specializes in that style and maybe learn an instrument that’s a key component to the music’s sound. That’s the origins of Zimbira, a Boulder-based band that nods to the music of South Africa, in particular music from Zimbabwe.

Zimbira is one of many bands performing at next’s iAM MUSIC Festival, an annual, multiday concert that features a load of regional and local bands performing throughout town. Bands on the bill include Ora, Stillhouse Junkies, Desiderata, Haikuu, Mojo Birds and more. Zimbira’s set is Friday at the Durango Arts Center.

If you go

WHAT: Zimbira at The iAM MUSIC Festival.

WHEN: May 3.

WHERE: Durango Arts Center, 802 East Second Ave.

TICKETS: $15.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit https://tinyurl.com/yc7a2b24.

The band formed when its members came to America to teach music. After a few lessons, both teachers and students came together to make the band. That was about 15 years ago. Since then, members have come and gone, but despite the moving musicians, the band has now remained an established, performing group, while falling right in with Colorado musical mainstays like The Motet or String Cheese Incident.

“It kind of organically grew from people in the Boulder area who were students of Zimbabwe music. In the ’90s, teachers came from Zimbabwe. We came to the United States and traveled the country teaching, and the band grew from teaching Zimbabwe music around Boulder,” said instructor and band member Zivanai Masango. “A few people that were learning this music, they wanted the opportunity to perform what they were learning. I was one of the teachers that came through to teach. We were asked to play at a fundraising event, and from there it just grew and grew and grew and we started to get more gigs; this was maybe around 2007 or 2008. The Zimbira that plays now, this configuration is probably from 2015 or so.”

At the center of this type of music is the mbira; it’s a traditional South African instrument that is used to play both rhythms and melody. It looks like a wooden cutting board that features a resonator that provides amplification, with a series of metal pieces that are plucked with a thumb. It’s that instrument that is vital to the sound.

“Most of the music we play comes from the tradition and the sound of the mbira instrument, which is sometimes called a thumb piano,” Masango said. “Most of the rhythms and the melody that we play are based on that instrument, but some of the music comes from Africa as well, and there are Congolese influences as well. It’s a very South African concoction, but mostly drawing from the rhythm and the melodies of the mbira from Zimbabwe.”

In addition to the mbira, expect heavy percussion in this high-energy music. Some may refer to it as world-beat music, which is an accurate descriptor.

“It’s dance music,” Masango said. “Some people say if you don’t dance, you will.”

It also fits right in with the overall purpose of iAM MUSIC, and that is to connect not only their students, but the festivalgoers with multiple genres of music, especially genres that may not be heard via mainstream music outlets. That purpose also fits right in with members of Zimbira, who are more than willing to give a close-up demonstration of the mbira, or further talk about the music of Zimbabwe.

“We are always willing and accessible to our audiences, to explain and show what we do,” Masango said. “So yes, whoever is planning on coming to this festival should not shy away from approaching us and talking to us more about our instruments and our music.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.