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The United Center’s floor shook Friday night as young people and their parents stomped their way through an African dance lesson. Two Zimbabwean drummers representing Kudzidza, a Boulder-based …
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The United Center’s floor shook Friday night as young people and their parents stomped their way through an African dance lesson.
Two Zimbabwean drummers representing Kudzidza, a Boulder-based nonprofit, transfixed an audience of about 50 with an appealing presentation of percussion and voice designed to create a cultural bridge while raising funds for those living in a country where the daily news is mostly bad.
Georgetown Community School brought the musicians to Clear Creek County. A morning assembly in the school gymnasium preceded the evening concert.
“Part of our goal is to create service-oriented and culturally aware students — and have fun at the same time,” said principal Rick Winter. “I think this assembly is very much part of our ‘stepping out’ program, where education is a lot more than reading, writing and arithmetic.”
Zimbabwe is just north of South Africa. English is the official language, a result of the 1923 British colonization that began with recognition of Zimbabwe’s natural resources (diamonds). Twenty percent of people ages 15 to 49 are now infected with HIV. The life expectancy for men is 37 years, 34 for women. Although blacks make up 98 percent of the population, it was estimated in the late 20th century that 70 percent of the arable land was owned by whites, who make up just 1 percent of the population. A torturous system of land reform has destabilized the country.
Last Friday, the tall black drummer nicknamed Bongo said his given name was “Pasipaomacopesa Mutanda.” Names are used to recall events, and his means: “The land is too dry; the logs will catch on fire because of the hot sun.” Bongo was born during a drought.
The eldest of 12 children whose mother was a spiritual healer, Bongo came to Boulder eight years ago. Friday, he described drumming as primarily a form of communication: There are few cars in Zimbabwe’s backcountry, only cleared paths, and drums are the fastest way to send messages.
Moreover, he said, in his culture children “play ceremony” instead of “playing house,” and drums undergird all important ceremonies.
Fellow countryman Munyaradzi Chakabuey (“The Comforter”) and Bongo presented a wonderfully hypnotic mix of drums, marimba and gourds, combined with call-and-response chants. Shaking his dreadlocks, waving his arms and stomping his feet, Bongo also taught his audiences a few simple dance steps, beginning at the morning assembly with Winter as guinea pig — a sight that made the students shriek with delight. Soon all the children and teachers were dancing in the gym.
Keeping more than 100 children happy, the relaxed and charming musician never lost control of his audience, and the Georgetown children behaved with admirable concert-going etiquette under the firm guidance of the school’s faculty.
The Friday evening concert was a different story, as exuberant youngsters cavorted through the United Center’s pews. After a brief intermission — to remove longjohns, Bongo joked — there was an “if you can’t beat them, join them” moment, when he graciously invited the dozen or so small children up to the stage to join him in dance.
The children were thrilled, and so were their parents, when they stood in front of the stage for a step-step-stomp dance lesson that made the old church’s floor shake.
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