The 8th Marimba And Steelpan Festival Is The Largest In The World

The Marimba and Steelpan Festival was held on the 27th and 28th of July, 2019. The venue of the event was St Dominic’s Catholic School For Girls, Gauteng Province, South Africa. Now in its eighth edition, the Marimba and Steelpan Festival hosted by South Africa had about 2,000 participating performers from across Africa. Consequently, the festival was judged the largest in the world. Marimba and steelpan players from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Botswana were among the participants.

A marimba is a percussion instrument with wooden bars. The player strikes the bars with rubber mallets or yarn to produce different musical tones. However, the sound produced by striking the bars is amplified by pipes or resonators underneath the bars. A chromatic marimba has the bars arranged like the keys of a piano. Steelpan, on the other hand, is a steel drum. Its origin can be traced back to Trinidad and Tobago. However, both the marimba and steelpan fall into the family of idiophone instruments.

The Marimba and Steelpan Festival stands out from other music festivals by accommodating disabled and disadvantaged musicians. However, the festival also features a mixture of rap, classical, and traditional African music. One of the Marimba players, Boitumelo Lekaka said through sign language,

“I feel very good because people can see that deaf people can do anything. Just like the hearing people in the world, [we] can do anything. Everything. Playing marimba, all different types of instruments. We can do the same thing as the hearing people and all the other people.”

Lekaka’s words were translated by her teacher Rose Moloi. Moloi is a teacher at the South African Deaf Dominican School in Hammanskraal. However, without discriminations, the disadvantaged musicians were allowed to compete with other musicians. You can get the final 2019 program here.

The reactions trailing the 2019 Marimba and Steelpan Festival

The growth in the number of participants of the Marimba and Steelpan Festival also means growth in the level of competition. One of the judge for this year’s event was American vibraphone artist, Jason “Malletman” Taylor. Taylor is also a five-time Grammy Ballot Award nominee. However, appreciating the excellent display from the disabled musicians Taylor said,

“And that was my first time ever judging a group that was deaf! I’m like, how are you playing these notes and you can’t hear the notes? And I know that that was a gift from up above. So, if you can’t hear it, they probably feel it. And I think it’s incredible!”

One of the past winners for best steelpan performance is Nigeria’s St. Jude’s Private Schools. The steelpan contest features students from different schools across the continent. The leader of the Nigerian steelpan ensemble, Femi Obadina highlighted the high standard of the competition. In an interview, Obadina said,

“This one is actually more competitive, because you have, you know, different schools from different countries.

Other features of the festival

While the music contest is the main feature of the Marimba and Steelpan Festival, there are also other perks to the event. The competition runs concurrently with ninety music workshops. However, Dave Reynolds, an award-winning composer describes the Marimba and Steelpan Festival as therapeutic. According to Reynolds,

“It’s very emotionally engaging. There’s a small amount of technical and musical knowledge that they use, but a lot of it is just coming from the heart.”

Education Africa International Marimba and Steelpan Festival’s Joan Lithgow said,

“As Africans, we encourage our students also to be dancing and singing and playing at the same time, because that’s when you get the full benefit of the music.”

The features of the festival include;

  • Marimba and steel pan competition
  • Massed Marimba and steel pan experiences
  • Marimba and steel pan performances
  • Non-denomination dedication
  • Composition competition
  • Hands-on workshops
  • Massed drumming experiences


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