'Africa Sings!!!' Applause rains down on Zimbabwe's Liyana band (38482)
'Africa Sings!!!' Applause rains down on Zimbabwe's Liyana band (38481)

In Ndebele, one of the three official languages spoken in Zimbabwe, the word “liyana” translates to “it’s raining.” And that’s good because in this drought-ridden republic (formerly named Rhodesia), located in the middle of southern Africa, rain is the symbol of blessings and good fortune. Likewise, good fortune fell like singing rain last Tuesday when Liyana, a dynamic group of young musicians on tour from Zimbabwe, poured out brilliant crescendos of blessings upon a group of New York City students and their teachers at Columbia University’s Teachers College’s Cowin Center, bringing the vigorously applauding audience to their feet.

The eight member group of self-taught musicians, who triumphed over their physical disabilities to win the Crossroads Africa Interregional Musical Festival, range in age from 17-23.In addition to writing their own songs, the talented musicians also make their own instruments–an eclectic blend of marimbas, African drums, shakers, pianos and vocals–to create their trademark driving percussive “Afrofusion” sound.

“I am enjoying each and every second of performing here in New York,” said Prudence Mabhena, Liyana’s lead vocalist. “Of course, it’s cold– but, hey, it’s all nice. Coming to America has been my biggest, biggest dream, and performing on stage in New York at a place like this is just great. And the kids–wow. This is a fantastic place. I love America.”

On a month-long tour of the United States, New York is one of the stops for Liyana, who have already played dates at Stanford University, Disneyland and the Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

“Every time we perform, we get a great impression from people,” said Mabhena, who lost her legs when she was 11 and has only modest use of one hand, the result of a rare congenital disorder known as arthrogryposis. “People seem to enjoy our music, and whenever I’m on stage, it’s the perfect time for me.”

To broaden the educational impact of the event, Teachers College faculty have developed companion classroom materials with a focus on global culture, which are being

“While children grow from exposure to the band and the music, we think it’s also important to provide teachers with concrete ideas to connect the concert-going experiences with mandated curricula to optimize deeper learning,” said Harold Abeles, professor of music and co-director of the Center for Arts Education Research at Teachers College.

Emily Zemke, coordinator of Teachers College’s Office of Community and School Partnerships, revealed that 13 schools in Harlem attended the two OCSP-sponsored Liyana performancs at the Cowin Center,as well as one at a school in the Bronx for children with cerebral palsy. “I would love to see more of this kind of thing in the future,” said Zemke, who coordinated the event. “It’s really a question of people knowing that we can do this and of the schools coming to recognize us as a source of these kinds of opportunities and a venue for bringing the school community in Harlem together.” The Liyana tour is co-produced by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, a mobile recording studio that provides students with the opportunity to make music, and the Jonathan Plutzik and Lesley Goldwasser Family Foundation.

To view the concert, you may visit the Office of School and Community Partnerships’ web page at http://www.tc.columbia.edu/oscp/liyana.htm.

“The Africa Sings!!!” series was inspired by Grammy-winner Angelique Kidjo, the first lady of World Beat Music and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, who said of this musical movement: “I feel we are living a special time in history when people are ready to open their hearts to the beauty of African culture through its musical heritage.” Kidjo will be honored, along with Harry Belafonte, at the Afropop’s 20th Hall of Fame gala on March 4 at Tavern on the Green. For further information, please visit http://www.afropop.org. For further information about the “Africa Sings!!!” series, please e-mail: africasings@gmail.com