“Let’s go make some music”, Justice Hakata beckons as a dozen teenagers spill out of the minibus.
They don’t need encouragement to follow him to the practice room. “You know the drill. Communicate with one another and build on your performance from last week.” Justice gets the beat going on a Djembe drum and soon the room reverberates with rhythm and joy.
Members of the Music Voyage Marimba Band, never, ever miss practice. They think that their coach Justice is awesome. “He is so good at marimba and drumming, he is patient and he never shouts,” grins Nosipho Vilikazi. Justice adds the magic to the energetic and accomplished performance. “Did you hear the melody? Good job guys, but let’s control our speed. Slow does not mean faint.” Everyone is having is blast, dancing as they wield their mallets, creating incredible music. It seems astonishing that they only get together once a week. “We practice at home with spoons on the table,” laughs Sthembiso Mbhense.
Growing up in Zimbabwe, the mbira (thumb piano) was a big part of cultural life, having originated in the Zambezi valley over a thousand years ago. For many generations, a dried calabash and twenty-two flattened nails, in the accomplished hands of a local craftsman, has become a perfectly tuned mbira.
At boarding school, Justice was desperate to join the marimba band, an instrument that was widely played across Zimbabwe. “To begin with they said I could help carry the instruments! I was just happy to be around the positive energy and watched closely. I learnt to play quickly.”
Nowadays, Justice not only plays marimbas with aplomb; he fixes marimbas and builds new marimbas too.
At University in Pietermaritzburg, he and fellow students formed the Sunrise Band and Justice, who loves being around children, quickly became in demand as a teacher of the fledgling marimba bands at local schools. He soon began repairing the instruments, which is not a common craft. Did you know that all marimbas are tuned in E flat? He spends happy hours in his workshop, with his dogs Vako and Gift for company, carefully shaping keys to size, sanding, cutting resonators according to the frequency of each note, assembling and tuning. He is keeping his craft alive with passion and commitment to quality.
Justice takes real pleasure in watching the youngsters blossom thorough playing marimba. Not only does it assist with motor-skills, it’s great for brain development and focussing attention – particularly useful for ADHD or autism. “I see psychological benefits too,” he maintains, “individually, they may not be brave enough to perform, but the music gives them courage. They become confident, more comfortable with meeting new people and very often their school grades improve.”
“I dream of every school having a set of marimbas to play. Of thousands of enthusiastic learners gathering at festivals to celebrate the ancient rhythms of Africa.” This instrument is universal, accessible and inclusive – a perfect introduction to the world of music. Besides, who can resist breaking into dance when the band strikes up?
Learn more about the inspiring Music Voyage programme. Contact Justice to order your own handmade set of marimbas: 083 587 9010
This story was commissioned by N3TC who are enthusiastic supporters of Music Voyage.