Marimba Fest brings together pupils and beats

The Gardens Commercial Junior marimba band are, at back, from left, Naomi Camagu, 14, from Gugulethu, Mbalentle Vumazonke, 14, from Philippi East, Zahra Fisher, 13, from Kensington, Siphosethu Sofika, 14, from Gugulethu and Indiphile Luke 14 Philippi East, with Marimba Jam founder Kiara Ramklass. In front are Hayley Abels, 14, from Athlone and Masonele Matabane, 15, from Ilitha Park.

In the spirit of Heritage Month, the seventh annual Marimba Jam Festival will take place on Saturday September 16 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

The festival, themed The Music That Moves Us, is hosted by non-profit organisation Marimba Jam, based in Newlands.

Marimba Jam brings together over 500 students from 20 schools in Cape Town, including Springfield Convent School in Wynberg, Wynberg Girls’ High School, Mitchell’s Plain High School, South African College School in Newlands, Livingstone High School in Claremont and Gardens Commercial High School in the city centre.

The founder and director of Marimba Jam, Kiara Ramklass, who lives in Vredehoek, believes music can act as a vehicle for social change. “Music has the power to change the lives of children and offer them the opportunity to unlock their potential to become the country’s future leaders.”

Ms Ramklass grew up in Parow and attended Wynberg Girls’ High School, where they offered all sorts of extra murals – music being one of them. She said while in high school, a project on a social issue brought about the idea to share the joy of music with children who didn’t have the privilege to have music at school – and Marimba Jam was born.

She said now, 10 years later, Marimba Jam teaches 50 school bands, and employs around 30 instructors – some who had come through the programme themselves.

“We have grown quite a beautiful community around marimbas.

“Its a nice space for community and healing, and also finding something that you’re good at and passionate about.”

Ms Ramklass said Marima Jam is funded through private lessons at more affluent schools, and using the profits to teach historically marginalised and under-resourced schools through its Stars Outreach Programme, which will benefit from the proceeds of the festival.

So, why marimba? Ms Ramklass said she has been playing for 17 years. “It brings so much joy.”

She said its also an instrument where the musician does not have to read music, so it is accessible to those who don’t have a musical background. “It’s also visceral. You use your whole body, so there is a healing power of banging something, getting out your stress and moving your whole body. It encompasses a team and there’s so many layers to a marimba band and what it could offer schools.”

Gardens Commercial High School forms part of the Rising Stars Programme, and has just started a junior band in addition to its senior band.

Principal Dylan Tommy said because the school was a commercial one, there wasn’t music programmes, but had always wanted a school band.

He made contact with Marimba Jam three years ago after hearing about the programme at another school. They acquired some second-hand marimbas and started sessions last year by “grabbing kids who I felt needed to do something.”

He said a pupil struggling with anxiety attacks was his first pick, and offered her a marimba lesson to help her focus, and she took the lesson with her friends. “Whenever she had an anxiety attack I took her to the marimba to calm herself.”

He said with music, it gives people rhythm that you can follow and also had a calming effect.

He said this was the initial group, and he found that the pupils were starting to practice all the time – even during intervals.

He said he also noticed that pupils’ academic performances improved while they formed part of the marimba band.

“With marimba, the pupils should have a form of discipline, which includes getting notes right and being at practice on time. It somehow centres you and gives you that discipline.

“I definitely see a positive impact on the learners involved. The team work, and commitment and working together creates the bond between the pupils practising, and also a sense of well-being for the children. Music and the arts are so important to children.”

Naomi Camagu, 14, from Gugulethu, said the upcoming festival was the first time she would be performing at a big event. “I am nervous and excited. I love the songs.”

She said she saw the senior band at school and fell in love with the marimbas, just like Masonele Matabane, 15, from Ilitha Park who also forms part of the band.

“When I play marimba, I feel free and I forget everything. It makes me so excited and happy. I’m so excited about of the festival,” said Masonele.

Ms Ramklass said the first Marima Jam Festival was held in 2016 at Maynardville in Wynberg as an opportunity to give the children a space to perform, as well as meet one another – bringing together children from many backgrounds who wouldn’t normally connect, but connect through music. “Performing builds so much confidence.”

She said the guests can expect an amazing line-up with a mixture of modern and more traditional songs.

All the musicians will join guest performer Zolani Mahola on stage as she sings the hit song, Doo Be Doo.

Ms Ramklass said the festival will also amplify an attempt to break a Guiness World Record next year for the largest ensemble.

The show will start at 7pm. Tickets cost R180 for adults and R110 for pensioners and children under 18 years old, and are available through Quicket.