Many shun from the mbira, traditional drum and hosho, associating them with tools of trade for spirit mediums.
However, in the midst of all the drama, there are some who are not shaken by myths or overly puffed western cultures and remain rooted in the ethos of Ubuntu – one such individual is Lerato Molife.
A lower six student at Watershed College, Molife is an amazing marimba player who captains her school band and is proud to be using this traditional instrument to express herself.
She is also the drama club president and active in sports and public speaking.
We had a chat with Molife who told us more about how her musical journey developed.
Who is Lerato?
Lerato is a simple ordinary girl who would like to become someone big one day. She’s a dream chaser just like everyone else, a reserved person but also outgoing.
I attended primary school at Admiral Tait and that’s where I commenced my music life as a marimba player. I actually remember sneaking into the school hall and playing the marimba after hours.
From primary school, I went to Watershed College from form one until this present day. I’m currently doing my lower six there.
I’m the first born out of three and 17 years of age.
Why Watershed of all Colleges and the growth of your art?
I chose Watershed because of the marimba. After watching their mouth-watering performance at the National Institute of Allied Arts competition in 2013 (also the year they won the cup).
The funny thing is I was not accepted in all the other high schools I applied to except for Watershed, so I think I was destined to go there.
How did you develop your artistry?
The first week of form one I auditioned to be in the marimba band and got in but I was put in the junior marimba band. My second year in high school I was moved up to play for the advanced marimba band and I was the youngest in the group. It was tough because it’s not something that happens often – you can only play for advanced marimba in form four provided you’re a really good player.
In some instances, I felt like giving up but I was pushed by my colleagues and trained hard. I learnt so much and I told myself that I’d love to become a captain one day.
This year I managed to become captain and to be honest it has its ups and downs. When you lead, you must lead by example because at the end of the day it’s all on you as the captain, as the leader, everyone is going to make a comparison to the leaders before you and it’s either you’re the worst or the best or somewhere in between.
But after all is said and done I want to salute by coach, Blessing Bled Chimanga. He’s my major inspiration.
But why marimba and not any other instrument?
I look at marimba the same as other instruments. It’s as important as all the other instruments and it’s unique in its own way. In my own perspective, I feel instruments like the piano, flute, guitar, and drums are the most common, well-known instruments.
I chose to play this instrument because it’s different and it’s up to me or us as marimba players to market our instrument the same way guitars have been marketed over the past decades.
Africans should be able to market their own instruments so that they’re well known. It may seem impossible but we all ought to possess the same vision and take pride in our own instruments for they are cultural and I think it’d be great to share our culture with the rest of the world.
Do you get negative comments for being a girl who plays the marimba?
I have not received as many negative reviews for being a girl who plays the marimba. However, they’ll obviously be a few of those people who are obliged to a certain belief that can never be as good as ‘so and so’ because I’m a girl.
There are times when I have to miss school because of music commitments and a lot of people can comment and judge you and also discourage you. One thing I’ve come to accept is that not everyone is going to understand your dream and people are always going to talk and say a lot of things and some of these things I really don’t take it to heart.
I just make sure that I balance my school, social life, sports and music. As long as I maintain all of that, whatever someone says to kill me I don’t listen.
What have you achieved with your marimba team?
My marimba team got over five million views in 2016 on social media (Facebook and YouTube) after performing at the National Institute of Allied Arts. We scooped the High School Contemporary Cup and the African Cup at the International Marimba and Steel-pan Festival held in South Africa in 2017.
This year we received honours at the National Institute of Allied Arts and we have an ongoing ticket to the Iguazu en Concierto Festival in Argentina after receiving the African and Contemporary cup at the international marimba festival in 2013. So in May, we will be going to Argentina.
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Has family been supportive?
I was born in a typical African home. So I’m sure you know it’s not always easy to get the full support you need. You have to make them believe that you can make it and its hard work because these people can be stereotypical and I won’t lie in the beginning they were not so supportive.
I’ve had to become independent in some instances and it’s hard because this is your family and you expect them to be your number one supporters and my parents only started believing in me when I started getting prizes and being called to perform at various events. Sometimes they can still doubt but I take it they are afraid but I’m still determined to prove to them that I can make it.
What’s the plan for the future?
Currently, I’m studying business, geography, literature and music. I plan to take up my music to a deeper level, I also appreciate all the other instruments and genres so I’d like to study music and perhaps use my business studies as well. Maybe I’ll start a music business of my own later on. But ultimately I’ll take ethnomusicology to a real deep level since it’s my greatest interest.