Boulder, Colorado is half-way around the world from the African country
of Zimbabwe. But a husband-and-wife team with a love of African music
keeps them connected, through concerts that feature Zimbabwean music,
teaching fellowships for Zimbabwean musicians, a popular music school
and fundraising for rural villages in Africa.
From Mozart to Mbira
When Randy McIntosh first studied music, he never dreamed that
he'd become one of the leading champions of music from Zimbabwe.
"I went to college to study piano," he explains. "I also played guitar and cello and bass."
that changed 15 years ago, when friends invited him to hear their
African band. He says he got interested, and then he got hooked.
"Now I hardly play the piano at all anymore. I just play these instruments."
His wife, Amy Stewart, plays them, too. She says the beauty of Zimbabwean music led to their marriage.
was playing in a band, and I thought he was super cool!" she says with
a laugh. "We started playing together also and eventually let go of all
those other things we were doing."
He was teaching at a
university. She was working for a non-profit organization. Now, the
couple performs on stage and runs a music school in Boulder.
McIntosh says they named it in honor of the Zimbabwean word for "fun."
"Kutandara! And it means to get together and have a good time."
And students at the school do.
In one of Kutandara's studios, three teens are playing marimbas, practicing for a concert where they're the star performers.
really unique, and not of lot of people do it," says one of them,
adding that the instrument is just fun to play. The other two students
agree. One admits she spends all her free time playing.
"It's my favorite thing. I love all the people, 'cause you get to know everybody, and I love the songs."
The keyboards in front of them are each as big as a table, with mallets
for striking the wooden notes. The hundreds of students who've taken
classes here over the past 10 years also learn to play other Zimbabwean
instruments, such as the ungoma drum and a hand-held instrument with
metal tines, called an mbira. As he plunks out a tune, McIntosh says,
"The sounds that I'm playing right now almost sound like a music box to
Giving back to the source of the music
In addition to playing and teaching its music, the couple leads efforts to help the country that music comes from.
says, "We do a lot of relief work and a lot of work for the people of
Zimbabwe, trying to promote their music and trying to help our friends
and teachers who live in Zimbabwe."
Stewart adds that they
each put in 80 hours a week on these efforts. "The thing that drives us
is the music and the people of Zimbabwe," she says.
Their efforts, McIntosh notes, are more important now than ever.
of AIDS and because of the political situation there and because of
droughts, right now, cholera in Zimbabwe, there's a lot of people who
are sick and impoverished and need our help."
Three or four times a year, they hold large fundraisers. The money
supports Kutandara's Rugare Peace Project, which provides food and
medical supplies to some Zimbabwean villages as well as long-term
improvements, such as electricity or building construction, decided
upon by village elders.
McIntosh and Stewart also stay
connected with a visiting artist program. Each year, they bring
Zimbabwean musicians to the United States to teach at their music
school. Stewart says it's all part of giving back.
"We're blessed with such a gift of their music that giving back to our friends and teachers from Zimbabwe was just natural."