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Montana marimba group to play Memorial Center on May 29

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| May 21, 2009 12:00 AM

The distrinctive sounds of marimba will fill the Memorial Center on May 29 but these musicians won’t be traveling to Libby from a far-away African nation.

The Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble is made up of a group of friends and families living in the Flathead Valley right here in northwestern Montana. The group plays music on African-style marimbas with roots in a form of music that encompasses traditions of the Shone Tribe of Zimbabwe.

“They are probably one of the best in the Northwest,” said Ralph Stever of the Troy Fine Arts Council, which is colloborating with the Kootenai Heritage Council to bring the band to Libby. “I saw them in Helena a year ago … they’re passionate about what they do.”

In 1985, the group “Grin and Bear It String Clan” came across marimba music at the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle. With that, the Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble was born.

Dumi Maraire, who taught in Washington state, brought a lot of the tunes that the band plays to America. Others are original works written by various band members or the group as a whole.

The Troy Fine Arts Council and Kootenai Heritage Council are combining their efforts with local business sponsors to bring the group to Libby. Arts councils – including a statewide organization – often colloborate on events through to keep costs down.

“It’s cost-efficient in advertising together,” Stever said, also mentioning the Sunburst Foundation in Eureka and the Montana Arts Council. “We can bring in acts that people normally don’t get to see.”

Brandon Roberts, executive director at the Memorial Center, approached Stever with the idea.

“I think it’ll be pretty exciting. It’s high energy, a lot of percussion, it fits in well with getting into spring and summer,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the dance floor will be set up at the concert for anyone who needs to move to the beat.

“The neat thing about them is it’s a family-based band,” Roberts said. “There are daughters and sons of the members. Some of these kids picked up instruments when they were 4 or 5 years old and I think now some of them are getting close to getting out of high school – around that age.”

The band appeared at the Hot Club in Troy last year and people had to be turned away for capacity reasons. The emsemble will also work with students in the Troy school system through a workshop.

“We’ll have them come into the schools as well,” Stever said. “We’ll do an assembly and the after-school program over here to teach kids about the marimba.”

Audience members often get caught in the Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble’s sounds.

Stever said, “It’s catchy, you can’t sit still.”


Who: Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble

Where: The Memorial Center, Libby

When: Friday, May 29, 7 p.m.

What: Concert to help raise money for the Troy Fine Arts Council

Tickets: Adults – $10; Youth – $5; 6-and-under – free. Available at the door, at the Memorial Center during business hours, the Caboose Motel, Libby Area Chamber of Commerce and Troy True Value Hardware.

Information: Call 293-9643 or 295-3016.