A Zimbabwe Sound Made Here at Home

by Stephen Hu,  Free Lance Star, 2013

Sometimes an unlikely meeting can result in a long-lasting musical collaboration. Such is the case with Ryan Anderson, the founder of Fredericksburg’s Marenje Marimba ensemble.

Anderson’s marimba journey began in 2001. After graduating from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in environmental science, he moved to the Hawaiian island of Maui to teach at a Waldorf school. Anderson wandered into a marimba workshop taught by Jan Maraire. Jan happened to be the widow of famed Zimbabwean musician Dumisani Maraire—the man responsible for bringing the music of his homeland to the United States. Anderson was immediately captivated by the music and began studying with Jan Maraire.  They played together in a band called Mapenzi Marimba.

“I was very fortunate to be able to study with someone so close to the source of this music,” said Anderson.

In addition to learning to play the marimba, Anderson also learned to make the instruments in Maui for his new group.

“Of course, we needed marimbas to play on and we had to build them,” said Anderson. “Jan and I worked together with a local carpenter to build the first two marimbas. Jan was very able and willing to work hard, and she taught me how to build marimbas with no textbook or video. It was the real deal.”

He continued to teach in Maui until 2007, when he decided to return to Fredericksburg. He traveled with plans to form a marimba band here—and two marimbas stuffed in surfboard bags. He received a grant to build additional instruments and start his group. With the help of his friend and woodworker Larry Hinkle, he was able to build several more marimbas in various sizes.

You may have seen the Marenje group playing on the streets of Fredericksburg or at various outdoor events. They are made up of middle and high school kids who meet weekly to play a style of marimba music from Zimbabwe.

Anderson had been involved with the Downtown Greens association on Charles Street and convinced them to let him use the basement of their building for his new marimba project. He wanted to share the lessons the music had taught him.

“My intention was to teach local neighborhood kids in Darbytown,” Anderson said. “I knew that Downtown Greens was in transition, and that the basement apartment could be used as a music studio, and that the kids in the neighborhood really could use the musical therapy.”

Things didn’t exactly work out that way.

“I had several open houses, and no kids actually showed up from the neighborhood.  I went door to door, I went to local schools and no kids showed up,” said Anderson. “Finally, I had some nibbles through the home-school movement.  Once people came to the studio, they were impressed and hooked.  We put some songs together and we were off.”

That initial group of students came from as far away as Warsaw and also included kids from King George County, Caroline County, Hartwood and Fredericksburg.  Eventually, some neighborhood kids joined the group.

“Marenje was chosen for the name of the band” said Anderson. “It means sacred forest, which is how I view Downtown Greens.”

Anderson and the group had been rehearsing and performing for two years when Anderson accepted another teaching job back in Maui. Josey Wold, a mother of one of the students, took over as leader of the eight-piece ensemble for several years. She passed that job on to the current director, Delaura Padovan. Padovan’s two daughters are original members of Marenje and clearly enjoy playing.

“It’s really nice.  You just get together and play music and then there’s snacks, so we eat food and hang out and play some more music,” said Padovan’s 17-year-old daughter Tara.

“It’s a good way to hang out with your friends and let off some steam, too—if you’ve had a bad day,” said senior Marenje member Alex Kane.

Padovan hopes to take the entire group to a marimba camp in Sante Fe, N.M., next Memorial Day weekend. She started a fundraising effort which includes tips the band receives when playing in a parking lot on William Street downtown every First Friday.

“We love it when people put dollars in those buckets,” said Padovan. “We’re not quite at halfway of what our goal is. We were thinking if we made $5,000, that would pay for two vehicles, eight kids, our admission to camp and so forth. We’re almost at $2,000 so we’re feeling like we can do this. We’ve never done it before, so it’s all brand new.”

Marenje will perform as part of the Down Home Ball to support Downtown Greens on Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Recreation Center on William Street. Padovan will also hold an event at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library on Caroline Street on Monday, Nov. 25.

“We are having a celebration of African music. The name of our concert is Kutambarara, which is in the Shona language,” Padovan said. “It means ‘spreading.’”

The show will also include African dance and appearances by Becky and Slam  Stewart. But the highlight of the evening will be the return of Ryan Anderson, who is traveling all the way from Maui to reunite with the group he founded six years ago.

Info: marenjemarimba.org

 Stephen Hu is a musician who would like someone to offer him any reason to go to Maui.

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