from Africa via Australia ~ Marimba!

CD (just released - Feb '06!) & book by Andy Rigby


Shumba Panzira
Ocean Grove
Akadinda Music
Kana Ndoda
Baya Khala
Spring Gully Jive
Hora Maldonia
Jit Song
Mbira Moods
Goldfields Jive
St. Augustine's Stomp


Zimbabwean and Australian Marimbas


This booklet presents in written form some of the marimba music played and taught by Andy Rigby in Victoria, Australia from 1991-1995. The music is from aural traditions and has so far been taught and played by ear; however many requests from teachers and musicians have led to this publication.

Andy worked as an engineer in Botswana in 1986-7 and grew to love the vibrant rhythms of the Zimbabwean marimba bands, as well as the haunting beauty of the mbira (thumb harp) music.

On return to Australia Andy became a full-time musician and instrument maker, specialising in marimbas and folk harps. He has worked extensively with Jon Madin in the design, building and playing of marimbas in Victoria.

Andy and Jon received great help and encouragement from Parents for Music, Victorian Orff Schulwerk Association, Turramurra Bush Music Camp, and in particular Heather McLaughlin, Christoph Maubach, Di Hill , Pauline Porra, Phil Melgaard and Gary King. The marimbas are now an integral part of school music in Victoria and a regular feature at folk music and community festivals. Several hundred instruments have been made, mostly by the users themselves. Details of the construction are available in Jon Madin's book "Make Your Own Marimba". Jon has also published a book and CD of his own compositions for marimba, "Marimba Music 1".

Zimbabwean and Australian Marimbas

A typical Zimbabwean marimba band has six marimbas, each played by one person; soprano, soprano, tenor, tenor, baritone and bass. Most of these instruments have a two octave range, and each has an overlap to the next one in the pitch range. Hosho (gourd shakers), drums, other percussion, vocals, and saxophones are used at different times to round out the group, and of course dancers are ever present.

All the Zimbabwean marimbas have tube or gourd resonators under each bar. In some cases modern materials such as P.V.C. pipe and fibreglass have substituted for natural gourds, particularly in times of drought. The resonators are fitted with membrane buzzers to give a percussive edge to the sound. The basic scale is C-D-E-F-F#-G-A-B-C, giving a European C-major scale with F# as the only modulation facility. The modern ones tend to be tuned to A-440, equal-tempered, although the traditional marimbas on which they are based employ a variety of pitch references and scales.

The Australian marimbas evolved into a three and a half octave instrument which covers the range of the Zimbabwean tenor and soprano, with a few extra notes in the high end. The main benefit is that three and sometimes four people can play on the one instrument, making it very sociable. This is like the Mexican and Guatemalan traditions. We have used tube resonators, with and without buzzers, and these are the ones I prefer for African music. Plywood box resonators have become very popular in schools (like Orff xylophones, only larger) but there is more difficulty fitting buzzers to these.

With the exception of one instrument in Canberra which has the F#'s included, we have kept to the seven note diatonic C-scale. Naturals can be easily exchanged for sharps or flats by lifting off individual bars.

Bass marimbas have been made to extend the pitch range downwards, and these vary from nine notes (C-D) to a two-octave-plus range. Tube resonators are used, with Jon's adjustable buzzers to vary the tone.