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Zimbabwean Funk

By chloe lung
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 22, 1999
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Arms will fly and bodies will flail when JAKA, a Santa Fe band influenced by the music of Zimbabwe, visits Tucson for two shows.

JAKA, whose members build their own instruments, plays music that takes its form from the Shona of Zimbabwe. JAKA augment the traditional style with English lyrics and Western harmonies. What emerges is a unique sound that compels audiences in Santa Fe and elsewhere to dance themselves silly.

JAKA employs instruments like the marimba, a row of wooden keys arranged horizontally and played by striking it with mallets, and the mbira, a Zimbabwean instrument with metal keys that are plucked by hand. The mbira is electrified and placed within a calabash gourd.

The band are musical descendants of Dumi Maraire, a musician who came to America to lecture at the University of Washington in 1969, and ended up staying. Maraire influenced two of the people who later formed JAKA after stints in other bands in the Northwest.

JAKA's appeal lies to some degree in the unfamiliarity, the novelty of their sound, as well as the visual effect of their performance. Of the three marimbas used by the band, one, the bass marimba, must be played by a person standing on a bench, due to its size.

While the funk-Zimbabwean rhythms are likely to get the audience moving, part of the excitement is watching the music created in a flurry of flying limbs and mallets.