Otto Gumaelius

Marimba & Mbira Music From Southern Africa

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

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Growing Up With The Marimba: The Maru A Pula Years. Part 2/3

This second post is dedicated to my years playing marimba at Maru-a-Pula Secondary School, from 2000 to 2003. 

I went through three groups whilst in high school, all led by Alport Mhlanga, who was one of the key pioneers of the Zimbabwean marimba as we know it today. You can read more about that here

In 2000, we started off as a small group of 4 that had joined Maru-a-Pula from Thornhill Primary School. We would often sneak into the marimba practice room behind the assembly hall during break time to play our favorite songs from primary school. It wasn't long before Mr Mhlanga picked up on our "tinkering", as he called it, and gave us the opportunity to piggy back on some of the senior band's performances, doing a few numbers at their shows.

After a while, my friend Tshepiso Tebogo-Maruping and I were the only two who wanted to keep up with marimba, so we joined one of the afternoon groups, comprised mainly of Form 2 (9th grade) students. However, their lack of enthusiasm soon led to the group falling apart, and the following year Tshepiso and I moved on and banded up with a larger group. I played in this group until I left Maru-a-Pula in May 2003. At the time of my departure, the band was made up of 8 people - Tshepiso Tebogo-Maruping, Lesego Letsapa, Lebo Letsie, Bonolo Moletsane, Liliana Saplontai, Goroma Mazonde, Sharon Sibanda and me. I was the only boy, and this was typical of marimba bands at Maru-a-Pula. We started off as two boys, but Kealeboga soon left due to family commitments. 

We pretty much spent every break time, lunch time, and all free afternoons practicing, practicing, practicing! We never grew bored or tired, and would only head home because we had to! I have many, many fond memories in the marimba rehearsal room. We performed frequently, both in and out of school. 

Looking back, I think some of my fondest memories are of the stories that Baba (Mr Mhlanga, as we fondly referred to him as) had to share. We didn't always understand them straight away, but there was always a profound meaning to everything he shared. I think this is why it was so hard accepting his passing in June 2012. All I can do is be grateful for the three fantastic years I got to play in his bands, and all the incredible learning I got to do under his wing.

Below are a few pictures taken from my very last performance with the band, on May 20th 2013, the day I moved from Botswana to Sweden! "Till the bitter end", as they say! 

Performing at Main Mall in Gaborone, 2003.  (Left to right - Front row: Goroma, Otto, Lesego. Middle row: Tshepiso, Liliana, Sharon. Back row: Bonolo, Mr Mhlanga, Moipone.)  

Performing at Main Mall in Gaborone, 2003. (Left to right - Front row: Goroma, Otto, Lesego. Middle row: Tshepiso, Liliana, Sharon. Back row: Bonolo, Mr Mhlanga, Moipone.)  

MaP Marimba Band
MaP Marimba Band

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