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South Africa Hosts World's Largest Marimba & Stilpen Festival



South Africa hosted the world's largest festival of marimba and steel on July 27 and 28, with nearly 2,000 musicians from all over Africa, including Botswana, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

The festival – now in its eighth year – mixes traditional African, classical and even rap music.

"As Africans, we encourage our students to also dance and sing and play at the same time, because that's when you get the full benefit of music," said Anoane Litgow of the International Festival of Education in Marimba and Stilpen.

Students take part in the International Festival of Education Africa in Marimba and Stilpen in South Africa, July 27 and 28, 2019. (Mariz de Clerk / VOA)

The festival prides itself on involving endangered and handicapped musicians who compete on an equal footing with other musicians.

"I feel great because people can see that deaf people can do something," marimba player Boitumelo Lecaka said through sign language. Rose Molloy, her teacher at the Dominican School of the Deaf in South Africa at Humanskrall, translated it.

"Just like people hearing in the world, [we] can do something. Anything. Playing marimba, all different instruments, types of instruments. They can do the same as the people they serve and all the other people, "Lekaka said.

Five-time Grammy Ball nominee and US vibraphone artist Jason "Mailman" Taylor helped judge the matches.

“And this was my first time judging a group that was stupid! I'm like, how do you play these notes and can't hear the notes? And I know it was a gift from above. So if you can't hear it, they probably feel it. And I think it's incredible! Taylor said.

Musicians take part in the International Education Festival in Marimba and Stilpen in South Africa, July 27 and 28, 2019.

Private schools “St. Judas ”from Nigeria is one of the past winners of the Best Steel Performance Trophy Festival. Stilpen ensemble leader Jamie Obadina says the standard of competition is extremely high.

"This is actually more competitive because you have, you know, different schools from different countries," Obadina said.

The competition is held in addition to 90 music workshops. Award-winning composer and steel player Dave Reynolds feels like a marimba and music with steel is like therapy.

"It's a very emotional engagement," he said. "There is a small amount of technical and musical knowledge that they use, but much of it comes from the heart."


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