Marimba percussionist Otto Gumaelius launches Taste of Southern Africa Cultural Arts Festival in UK
On October 21st in London, marimba percussionist Otto Gumaelius launched the Taste of Southern Africa Cultural Arts Festival, a weekend of activities celebrating the cultural arts of southern Africa.
The festival was founded with the desire to share and promote the cultural arts of southern Africa with the UK during Black History Month. The driving vision behind the festival was to create a platform to appreciate southern African culture in the UK, and to reinforce a positive image of the African continent.
Born to a Motswana mother and a Swedish father, Otto started playing folk music on the marimba in primary school in Botswana. He moved to Sweden in 2003 to pursue his International Baccalaureate diploma, and was able to continue playing the marimba through Zimba Marimba Band, a Swedish marimba band playing traditional Shona music from Zimbabwe. The band undertook several study tours to southern Africa and performed at HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) in 2007. After completing his studies, Otto moved first to Edinburgh for university, and then to London for work.
In 2016, he decided to dedicate himself full time to the marimba and the cultural arts of southern Africa, and founded African Marimba Music Ltd, a business delivering cultural marimba workshops and performances, with music from Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. With the business established, Otto felt the time was right to establish a cultural arts festival.
Otto explained, “For many years now, I have wanted to put on a cultural arts festival to celebrate my cultural heritage and to generate a positive spotlight on southern Africa. It was important for me to create a space where people from all walks of life could come together and engage with the cultural arts of southern Africa. My intention was to do this by giving people a chance to try it out themselves through workshops, and then get the opportunity to see the cultural arts in action through live performance”.
In this first iteration of the festival, five workshops ran throughout the day – dance from Mozambique led by Nelson Neves; marimba from Botswana led by Otto Gumaelius himself; mbira from Zimbabwe led by Takudzwa Mukiwa; singing from Zimbabwe and South Africa led by Tsungai Tsikirai; and drumming from South Africa led by Yusuf Legwabe.
After the workshops, participants had the chance to taste some southern African cuisine, before watching the headline marimba concert, which Otto put together with his London-based musician colleagues. The concert included marimba and mbira, with both traditional and contemporary songs and dances. The repertoire was predominantly from Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe – and included folk songs, liberation struggle songs, a gospel cover and some of Otto’s own original music.
Otto revealed, “I have been passionate about the cultural arts of southern Africa for as long as I can remember, from the days when my cousins and I would watch cassette recordings of my late maternal grandmother’s traditional dance troupe, Ditshepe. I feel proud to have been able to put on a festival like this – and for it to have been received so warmly by everyone who came to watch, participate and support. I look forward to growing the festival further next year, and to eventually bring local acts from the various southern African countries to perform live here”.
For enquiries about the festival or marimba music and lessons in the UK, contact Otto through his website www.ottogumaelius.com