Making Invigorating Music Zinindika

marimba is Shona for “wooden voices”

January 11, 2006

At many outdoor events downtown or at the waterfront, one sound draws you closer, with its energy-charged, upbeat rhythms and notes dancing through the air inviting you to dance, too:

It is the sound of Zinindika, a group of Hood River youth ages 12-19 who love the marimba.

Zinindika, a word from the Shona language of Zimbabwe, means “to feel invigorated.” The group has been invigorating audiences at various events in the area for the past six years or so. They are always a crowd favorite, loved by young and old alike.

A marimba — the Shona word for “wooden voices” — is a form of xylophone made of wood. It can produce soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass sounds, depending on its size. It is played by striking the wooden keys with rubber mallets.

Zinindika’s 10 current members play intertwining patterns of sound on soprano, tenor, baritone and bass marimbas, and punctuate it with hoshos (traditional gourd shakers) and a drum. They also incorporate some singing and movement into many of the songs.

For the past several years they have been playing regular gigs at the Mt. Hood Railroad when Thomas the Tank Engine comes to town, and this year they played during the Little Engine That Could weekends; they have also played at First Fridays, HoodFest, and Saturday Market.

They have played at events in Portland and on the lawn in front of Mike’s Ice Cream on Sunday afternoons.

And it all began with a Community Ed class.

Zinindika plays at the Mt. Hood Railroad and First Friday

Brynden Rawdin-Morris, of Mt. Hood, spotted a marimba class in the Community Ed schedule about eight years ago, and decided to give it a try. He liked it, and invited his brother, Loehn, and several upper valley friends to join.

When the class series ended the instructor, Will Griffith, moved the classes from the Hood River Middle School to his house, where he continued to work with the enthusiastic youngsters.

“Our ‘class’ had solidified as a kind of group,” says Elsie Denton, one of the original members. “We had our first few performances — though I don’t really remember what they were — and we got our first paycheck.”

After awhile Griffith wanted to groom the kids to go on the road and tour the country, and wanted them to sign a contract.

“As you might imagine, for a bunch of busy young teenagers who just wanted to have fun and weren’t really planning on dedicating their lives to marimba, this new turn was a little much,” says Elsie. “We as a band broke away from our teachers.

“We still wanted to play marimba, so we moved our practices, which is what they were officially going to be now (as opposed to classes), up to the (Mt. Hood) Towne Hall and everyone went out and bought their marimbas. We practiced all of the songs we knew every Sunday for a year, all on our own. Then we were officially bored and wanted new songs.”

The band tried out a few more teachers, lost a couple of members and added a few more, and went through a few growing pains until everything gelled about three years ago when they were first asked to play during the Thomas the Tank Engine weekends.

“The first Thomas was our tempering, where we found out if we could really play as a band,” Elsie remembers. “It turned out that we could, and by the time we were done, we were good. The band decided that now we had enough songs we should make a CD.”

They recorded their music in the sanctuary of Riverside Community Church, with help from Mike Andrews “and his crew.”

“The whole group was hyped,” she says. “A flurry of CD ideas followed as we tried to decide what we wanted on the package and how we were going to produce it. I managed to locate a CD production venue in Portland called Dungeon Replications that could do both the jacket printing and the CD production for a reasonable price; certainly cheaper than we could produce them ourselves.”

Zinindika had 200 copies ready in time for their Thomas performance the next year, and have sold enough of them to reach the break-even point, so they can now make a profit. They also have a Web site, which was designed by Elsie’s sister Alisandra, another member of the group, who also did the design for the CD jacket.

“In general we make money off our gigs, but this is probably a break-even hobby when you count the instructors’ fees we pay to learn new songs,” Elsie says.

The group has always been self-starting, self-motivated and self-reliant, though the parents have certainly supported them every step of the way, logistically and on the business end — until recently when Loehn became the official contact person instead of Bob Danko, father of group members Meredith (the group’s treasurer) and Ali.

“What is most rewarding for we parents is the kids organized the marimba band themselves and they continue to use a team approach for planning purposes and making decisions,” he says. “We parents just stay out of the way.”

Zinindika is made up of several sets of siblings, most of whom are from the upper valley: Original members Loehn (19) and Brynden (18) Rawdin-Morris; Elsie (18) and Alisandra (17) Denton; Keeley (19) and Kory (16) Harding; early additions Meredith (17) and Ali (12) Danko; later additions Rachael (15) and Audrey (13) Mallon; and the group’s newest member and only one from Hood River, Claire Smith (15), who joined when Elsie and another early addition, Kelsey Hale, went off to college last fall.

“Our band — I suppose I’m not in it anymore but I still think of it that way — is now completely self-run, though it has been largely so ever since we broke away from Will and Lynn,” Elsie says. “We manage our own money, we produced our own CD, we decide which songs we will learn and who will teach them to us, and which gigs we will play at. We decide when and who will be our new members and we train them ourselves.”

Zinindika is again working with their original teacher, Will Griffith, on some new songs and on some other things he felt could help the group.

The group is already booking for spring, summer and fall gigs, and their upbeat, positive and fun music is perfect for annual organizational meetings, reunions, parties, etc., Bob Danko says.

“They work hard, take it seriously, but make it fun,” he says. “It has been a wonderful experience for all of them.”

*****

To inquire about scheduling a performance by Zinindika, visit its Web site www.zinindika.com or call Loehn Rawdin-Morris at (541) 352-6022.

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