About the Band
Boka Marimba is a ten-member dance band that plays exhilarating, positive-energy music from Zimbabwe and other areas of southern Africa. The music is in the Shona style: Melodic themes and variations layered in polyrhythmic, cyclic patterns. People, on hearing this music for the first time, have often described the feeling as one of coming home. Some have spoken of dancing for the first time in their lives, or for the first time ever out of the privacy of their living rooms. People of all ages respond with enthusiasm and delight. At one outdoor festival, an elderly gentleman came up and said, “This was some of the best entertainment of my life. I tried to stay seated, but finally had to get up and dance.”
The band’s instrumentation consists of seven marimbas (two sopranos, one alto, two tenors, a baritone, and a bass), gourd shakers called hosho, mbira, and drums. The songs are most commonly sung in the Shona language.
The sheer pleasure of playing is the glue that bonds the band together, and the desire to share this music with others is the fuel that fires Boka Marimba.
How the Band Got Started
Dumisani “Dumi” Maraire, the late Zimbabwean master musician, composer and ethnomusicologist, brought this music to the Pacific Northwest in the 1960s. Marian Grebanier formed Boka Marimba in 1987 with a group of people from the area who fell in love with the spirit and sound of this music. Dr. Maraire taught the band a large part of its current repertoire. The band later expanded its repertoire with arrangements taught by Ephat Mujuru, Alport Mhlanga, Michael Sibanda, Tendai Muparutsa and others. We also perform original arrangements in the same style.
The Meaning of “Boka Marimba”
In Shona, boka means “group”. And marimba is the plural of rimba which means “wooden voice.”
We play Zimbabwean style marimbas. The keys are made of Padauk, Wenge, Honduras Rosewood, and Cherry. The resonator tubes, made out of PVC pipe, are fitted with cellophane or “space blanket” buzzers that provide the characteristic Zimbabwean sound. They are constructed by band members and by Carl Dean of Portland.
The mbira, with 24 metal keys, is the primary traditional instrument of the Shona people. It consists of a wooden board with attached staggered metal tines, played by holding the instrument in the hands and plucking the tines with the thumbs and right forefinger (most mbira), and sometimes the left forefinger. Many of our songs are contemporary adaptations of traditional melodies played on the mbira.
Current Band Members