Polyphony Marimba

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Polyphony Marimba is a nationally touring marimba ensemble based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Formed in 2010, their music vibrantly conveys a deeply personal contemporary sensibility, while drawing from the ancient rhythms and melodies of southern Africa. Touched by the compelling beauty of Zimbabwean music, songs of this region are always part of the set. Their goal is to be true to the music, while giving it their own voice and extending the tradition with other musical influences.

In their short history, they have logged more than 200 gigs throughout the eastern U.S. Reaching thousands of new fans who invariably respond with a surprised and joyous appreciation of their music, they have sold over 2,000 copies of their debut CD “Polyphony Marimba”. Performance highlights include: headliner at Zimfest 2012 in Moscow, Idaho, performances in Washington Square and Harlem, New York, return gigs at Joe’s Cafe in St. Louis and attracting huge crowds busking in Asheville, North Carolina, Washington D.C. and even the Chicago Zoo!

Polyphony Marimba’s founder and leader, Peter Swing, first experienced marimba music in 1987 attending a marimba concert in Portland, Oregon. Soon afterward he attended his first workshop with the Zimbabwean teacher Dr. Dumisani Maraire. Maraire was not primarily interested in teaching the traditional songs of his people: he challenged people of non-African heritage to understand the music from the inside out and play as Africans do. He said, “In order to play our music properly, you must live it.” Swing immediately responded to this profound approach; within five years he was teaching the music himself, and directing Boka Marimba, the band in which he learned the music. In 1996 Swing moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to begin the life of a full time musician. As a marimba teacher and instrument builder he and his family began attracting many people to the joyous and fun music of Zimbabwe. This led to the formation of several bands and classes, out of which the members of Polyphony Marimba emerged. His son Raven Swing, having grown up in the music, now plays a leading role musically and contributes original compositions to the band’s repertoire.

For the last 15 years, Karyna Boyce, the band’s booking agent and singer, has been immersed in marimba, drum and dance of Africa. Harlin Pierce spent his twelfth birthday performing with Bobby McFerrin; on his fifteenth he was in the recording studio with Polyphony Marimba. Currently studying seven different instruments — and playing them well — his favorite is the marimba. His father Anton Pierce, a recent addition to the band, has a deep history in music. Beginning as a lead singer in a rock band in college, he moved through many musical idioms, including directing several choirs. Eric Bauer, a long-time player of the mbira music of Zimbabwe, brings a deep understanding of this tradition to the band, having spent time in Zimbabwe studying with masters such as Tute Chigamba. Keenan McDonald has been playing marimba since he was 7 years old, being first drawn to it when he was a toddler hearing marimba classes at a nearby church. Jaden Rivers and Dylan Moon both got their start with classes Peter was teaching at their school: their innate musical ability combined with a strong desire to play marimbas at a professional level, landed them a position in Polyphony Marimba.

Polyphony Marimba emerges from a village environment, and this is reflected in its unique multi-generational membership. In the village too, musical instruments are built by master craftsmen; so in this band Swing has crafted a new set of marimbas, the first in North America in the key of E flat. Maraire considered his students to be pioneers, both carrying forward the traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe as well as writing their own songs. Polyphony Marimba is the embodiment of this. In spite of — or maybe because of — persistent challenges, their music is stronger than ever and they are excited to share it around the world with anyone ready to hear, dance and join in with the uplifting experience they create.


All Contributors, Volume 2 Issue 7