Tapping into ecstasy: Jaka infuses crowds with its polyrhythmic world beats | SummitDaily.com
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Tapping into ecstasy: Jaka infuses crowds with its polyrhythmic world beats

DILLON – The mbira is a magical instrument the Shona people of Zimbabwe have used for more than 1,000 years to commune with spirits. These days, Jaka plucks a traditional Zimbabwean mbira to tap into the ecstatic dance energy in every crowd.

Jaka’s rich polyrhythmic world beat is a deep blend of the ancient mbira traditions of Zimbabwe and “soukous,” a style of guitar playing, which originated from the Congo. Spiked with a Caribbean steel drums, world rhythms and soulful, syncopated vocal harmonies in Zulu, Shona, Spanish and English, Jaka transports crowds to the root of tribal experiences.

The outfit began as an all marimba band in Santa Fe, N.M., in 1996, then branched out to Carribean and African beats. Its debut album stayed true to traditional Zimbabwean dance music, its second album explored the trance-inducing effects of the mbira and its latest album, “Balance,” lives up to its name with a blend of African, Latin and Carribean music. “Balance” makes world music accessible, mixing mellow and danceable tunes in a pleasing compilation that brims over with joyous sounds.



“We’re a dance band,” percussionist Bones said. “It’s really complicated interlocking guitar lines with really driving syncopated drum rhythms. You can take it as a simple groovy dance rhythm, or you can take it pretty deep.”

Even if your body doesn’t gyrate to the primal rhythm, watching Jaka is a visual carnival. David Schaldach, on bass, marimba, mbira, penny whistle and percussion, dances like a madman while pounding out a back beat on his five-foot tall, nine-foot-wide bass and letting out a traditional African cry.



“It’s a visual spectacle as well as a rhythmic and musical onslaught,” Bones said.

Matt Wasowski, on guitar, banjo, marimba, mbira and percussion delivers solid, African-style guitar riffs with a gut-level honesty, exposing the influences of his studies with native musicians in Zimbabwe.

Glenn Taylor evokes the sounds of keyboards and “soukous” guitar from his steel pedal guitar, adopting bubbly, highly percussive guitar lines from various parts of Africa – including “juju” from Nigeria, “mbaqanga” from South Africa and “chimurenga” from Zimbabwe.

“He’s one of the best pedal steel guitarists in the world and the only one playing soukous-style African music in the world – at least that I’ve ever heard of,” Bones said.

Bones is a musical amalgam, playing the drum set, conga and marimba at the same time – and pounding on the steel drum in between. His lifelong study of Latin, African and Caribbean rhythms has led him to perform throughout Europe, Central America and the Carribean.

“My goal is to make our audiences dance from the first note until the last so even their muscles remember us the next day,” he said.

As if the four players don’t bring enough variety to their shows, Jaka’s latest addition to its musical arsenal is the saxophone and trumpet, or the “tembo” horn section as Jaka calls it (“tembo” means “elephant” in Swahili). With Greg Warren on sax and Kirk Knuffke on trumpet, the tembo horn section adds a complex flavor of African and Caribbean horn lines to Jaka’s jungle of sound.

“They just take the energy right over the top,” Bones said.

The smoke-free show starts at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Dillon Dam Brewery in Dillon.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.

– Marimba: a musical instrument somewhat like a xylophone, consisting of a series of hard wooden bars, struck with small mallets. Jaka plays homemade marimbas, cutting keys from African padouk or cherry wood and tuning them by removing wood from the center or the outside of the key until they correctly pitch the fundamental note and overtones. Tubes underneath the keys are made from PVC pipe and tuned by placing wooden stoppers covered with cellophane at specific lengths. When a mallet strikes a key, air pressure is sent down the tube causing the cellophane membrane to buzz. Many Shona people refer to this buzz as “jaka,” hence, the name of the group.

– Mbira: Zimbabwe’s mbira is the primary traditional instrument of the Shona people, played for more than 1,000 years to induce a trance to connect the living with their ancestors. It consists of 22 to 28 metal keys mounted on a hardwood soundboard and is usually placed inside a large gourd resonator. Musicians play the keys with the two thumbs plucking down and the right forefinger plucking up.

– Steel drum: The steel drum, or “pan,” was invented in Trinidad in the late 1930s. It is a chromatic instrument with each section producing a different note. Pans are made from 55-gallon oil drums, using a sledgehammer. This stretches the metal into a concave bowl. In Trinidad, pan-makers then take their drums to the beach, build a fire and, after burning the pan for a short of period of time, plunge it into the ocean to cool. Notes are grooved into the pan using a nail punch and hammer. The pan-maker uses a tuning device and carefully hammers at each note from the top, pounding and smoothing the note area so it will vibrate precisely.

Event: Jaka

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19

Where: Dillon Dam Brewery


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