Jabulani 

Kids group appeals to all ages

Who : Jabulani

Where : Community FunFest, Rainbow Park

When : Sunday, Sept. 7, 3-6 p.m.

You don’t have to study the languages and dialects of Zimbabwe to figure out what the word jabulani means. You just have to attend a performance by the group of the same name.

Contrary to the stereotype of the sullen adolescent drowning their angst in ear-splitting nu-metal, the 15 Vancouver-area teens that comprise the world beat ensemble play a collection of up-tempo marimba and percussion numbers that will put a smile on any face.

"It’s Zimbabwean word that means ‘be happy,’" confirms artistic director Pasipamire Gunguwo.

The group formed originally out of a 2001 summer world music workshop for teens under the management of school librarian Valerie Dare. The following year artistic direction was transferred into the expert hands of Gunguwo, a music teacher from Zimbabwe, and Jabulani was officially born.

Learning to play world beat music involves more than simply learning the instruments. Participants must also learn the culture behind the music. Gunguwo directs Jabulani by guiding the members of the group to essentially direct themselves. There is no official leader, no conductor, no first chair, rather Jabulani is a group of equals in performance, composition and instrument allocation, something Gunguwo says is natural to Zimbabwean musicians. But was difficult for the Canadian teens to grasp at first.

"At first it was kind of challenging to work with kids here because they were not so much used to the idea of sharing the music," Gunguwo explains.

With his coaching, the members of Jabulani were able to shed their inclinations toward North American style possessiveness and practice the more open style of musicianship and improvisational composition native to Africa.

Like typical teens, Gunguwo says members of the group were hesitant at first to present the ‘alternative’ music to their peers, however, after the first few performances in schools were met with an enthusiastic reaction, hang-ups melted away. Jabulani has since chalked up an impressive roster of performances, appearing over the past year at big name events such as Festival Vancouver, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, and the city’s Canada Day celebrations.

The group recorded its first CD, Take it Easy in May 2002, proceeds from which are going towards funding a trip to Cuba over spring break, 2004. Plans are also in the works for a music video, and a second CD that would involve a collaboration with a similar group Gunguwo used to instruct in Zimbabwe.

He is in the unique position of being able to directly compare youth from two different continents. Deep down inside, he says, they are not so different.

"The way they present music is so pure, there is no big difference now," he reflects.

And Gunguwo says the title of the CD is less a philosophical statement than simply a desire to communicate that making music and integrating music into everyday life is not as hard as people make it out to be.

"In Zimbabwe, music is a part of everything. You are always involved with it. We need music as soon as we wake up."

He chuckles. "Canadians need more music."

Catch Jabulani on Sunday, Sept. 7 at Community FunFest at Rainbow Park. The free event for kids of all ages is organized by the Whistler Parks and Recreation Department. The festival features games, canoeing, a bouncy castle, face painting, art tables, juggling lessons and more. A $5 barbecue will also be available. The event runs from 3 to 6 p.m.

The festival will move indoors to Myrtle Philip Community Centre in the case of poor weather.

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