After three years, Bongo Love is returning to Santa Cruz to play their signature style of Zimbabwean music at Don Quixote’s on Nov. 4.
The group was founded in 2001 in Zimbabwe and has been on tour ever since.
The band created the term “afrocoustics” for their genre, which is a mix of Afrobeat and traditional Zimbabwean style music.
“We just decided to create a new sound from traditional instruments like marimba and mbira,” said lead singer and drummer, John Mambira. “And then just make it into modern music.”
Mambira said he is excited to come back and play music for the community again. Their last visit to Santa Cruz was in 2009.
Mambira’s brother Mpho Mambira plays the marimba, a percussion instrument of African origin that resembles a xylophone. Trymore Jombo plays the mbira, which is a thumb piano from Zimbabwe and James Buzuzi plays guitar.
Bongo Love has performed in several African countries as well as all over the U.S., winning awards like Zimbabwe’s Music Crossroads Festival prize and Mozambique’s Ethno Music Prize. Their success has led them to perform in Sweden and the Dominican Republic as well as to their first U.S. tour in 2007.
Not only will Bongo Love be performing, but they will also be giving workshops for a few days during the week on the marimba, drumming, singing and dancing.
“We play music, and then we love to share and teach, too,” Mambira said.
Bongo Love met Santa Cruz resident Stephen Spitalny, who organized the dates for the group to come to Santa Cruz at the 2007 Zimbabwean Music Festival in Washington. Spitalny is a kindergarten teacher at Santa Cruz Waldorf School and a performer in Santa Cruz’s Sadza Marimba Band.
“We became friends and I thought it would be a great idea to get them down here,” Spitalny said.
Fans of Zimbabwe music have been influencing more artists to visit the Santa Cruz community and perform. Three Zimbabwean style marimba bands are based in Santa Cruz — Sadza Marimba & Mbira Band, Kuzanga Marimba and Singing Wood. Marimba lessons are given at the Singing Wood Marimba Centre for those who are interested in practicing the instrument and learning more about Zimbabwean style music.
The first Zimbabwean style band in Santa Cruz was called Dandaro, which started when band members took lessons from Shona Zimbabwean musician Dumisani Mariare. Dandaro lasted for about a decade and was successful in starting a community of people who were interested in learning and hearing more Zimbabwean style music.
Tom Melkonian, who was a member of Dandaro, said interest in this type of music has spread over time as more musicians have helped teach others.
“Generally Zimbabwean musicians are generous,” Melkonian said. “And they like to share their music with people.”
Along with performing, Melkonian and his bandmate Don Davidson also gave lessons to those who were interested, helping spread their skill and interest in the music.
“In our area there’s probably a community of 50 people who are interested in playing Zimbabwe music,” Spitalny said. “With a few friends we’ve invited a bunch of Zimbabwe musicians to Santa Cruz over the years. We’ve had loads of mbira players and Zimbabwean guitar players. We’re very lucky.”
Mambira said the group is looking forward to their performance at Don Quixote’s and their time in Santa Cruz.
“We love the way the audience responds to our music and it just gets us going as a band,” Mambira said. “When we play we see people being happy and appreciating our music and I love that.”
The classes are running from Nov. 4–7 and are $15 per person. The concert will be on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. at Don Quixote’s in Felton. Ages 21+, $12 in advance and $15 at the door. For more information on the event and Bongo Love go to http://www.donquixotesmusic.info/.