Otto Gumaelius

Marimba Music From Southern Africa

Otto Gumaelius is a London based, Botswana raised, performing artist & teacher of southern African folk music on the marimba.

Growing Up With The Marimba: The Thornhill Primary School Years. Part 1/3

This is going to be a three-part post, dedicated to the three bands I played in during my school years.

In this first post, I'd like to share some pictures and memories from 1998 and 1999, where it all began - playing in Michael Sibanda's marimba band in Thornhill Primary School, in Gaborone, Botswana. 

I still remember as if it were yesterday, how Mr Sibanda would come to my Standard 5A class looking for some of the students he had selected for the junior band who were not attending band practise. Each time he'd come, I'd enegeticlly raise my hand and say "Mr Sibanda, if you pick me to be in the band I promise I'll always show up!". I don't know if that's what did the trick, but I certainly made it into the band the following year, and continued to play till the end of the following, and final, year of primary school. 

Initially, having always been a very shy child growing up, I was quite intimidated by the Standard 7 kids in the group, who were in the year above me, so I mainly stuck to the tenor, the safe instrument in any junior marimba band, where I nonetheless have fond memories of playing popular southern African songs like Thoko (originally written by Mahotella Queens I believe) next to Moabi Garebamono, and Pata Pata (by Miriam Makeba) next to Jaanki Dullabhai.

There would be the random occasion when I'd venture out to the other instruments in the band, and to my surprise, the one time I tried the soprano, the lead instrument in a marimba band, I was actually cheered on by the Standard 7s, which really encouraged me to be more confident. 

That year we did a wide variety of shows in school and at various events in and around the capital city. We even got to travel to South Africa to perform at the 23rd World International Society of Music Eduction conference in Pretoria.

In my final year of primary school I really came out of my shell, and ventured very confidently onto other instruments in the band. Towards the end of the year, we got to travel once again to South Africa, this time to record the school's debut marimba album - Thornhill Marimba Magic, which comprised of 8 songs including Botsotsi, Sibanda's graduation piece from Kwanongoma College of Music - today played by many marimba bands around the world.

I will remain eternally grateful to Michael Sibanda for whatever it was he saw in me that led him to put me, and keep me, in the Thornhill Marimba Band!

Here are some of the few pictures I have from those years.

 Thornhill Marimba Band, 1998.  (From left to right: Nuru, Tebatso, Meegan, Tshegofatso, Tumisang, Jaanki, Kealeboga, Setso, Otto, Waitse, Michael Sibanda, Lame, Tshegofatso, Neo, Tapiwa, Andrea, Mana, Tshepiso, Thandeka, Tlamelo, Obakeng, Moabi, Masego).

Thornhill Marimba Band, 1998. (From left to right: Nuru, Tebatso, Meegan, Tshegofatso, Tumisang, Jaanki, Kealeboga, Setso, Otto, Waitse, Michael Sibanda, Lame, Tshegofatso, Neo, Tapiwa, Andrea, Mana, Tshepiso, Thandeka, Tlamelo, Obakeng, Moabi, Masego).

 Thornhill Marimba Band, 1999.  (From top left to bottom right, vertically: Yvette, Lame, Michael Sibanda, Lilliana, Otto, Setso, Tshepiso, Amy, Among, Sharon, Seele, Boikanyo, Charlotte, Kealeboga, Careen, Keletso, Jaanki, Mogi, Karabo, Thamani, Amber, Lenitame, Sara, Sakhile)

Thornhill Marimba Band, 1999. (From top left to bottom right, vertically: Yvette, Lame, Michael Sibanda, Lilliana, Otto, Setso, Tshepiso, Amy, Among, Sharon, Seele, Boikanyo, Charlotte, Kealeboga, Careen, Keletso, Jaanki, Mogi, Karabo, Thamani, Amber, Lenitame, Sara, Sakhile)

 Thornhill Marimba Magic, 1999.

Thornhill Marimba Magic, 1999.

 Final assembly, 1999.

Final assembly, 1999.

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