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Latin American Studies

Bowdoin's Afro-Colombian Marimba Band One-of-a-Kind

Story posted May 25, 2011

You won't find many traditional marimba bands outside of Colombia. These spirited, rhythmic bands derive from often obscure, rural communities along Colombia's Pacific coast. They are the music of descendents of African slaves.

Surprisingly, this lively musical tradition is surviving, even thriving, at Bowdoin College.

Bowdoin Assistant Professor of Music Michael Birenbaum Quintero has established the Bowdoin Afro-Colombian Marimba Band, which performs at 7:30 p.m, May 4, 2011, in Studzinski Recital Hall.

It is the only college-based Afro-Colombian marimba band outside of Colombia.

Centered around the xylophone-like marimba, the music's complex rhythms are passed back and forth between hand drums and bass drums, called bombos. Melodies are traditionally sung by women, who chant, harmonize and even yodel.

Birenbaum Quintero teaches the music as part of the World Music Ensemble class.

Spring 2011 Music Events

Other upcoming Bowdoin music performances include:

Bowdoin Chorus, directed by Anthony Antolini - May 5-6, 7:30 p.m., Studzinski Recital Hall
Bowdoin Chamber Choir, directed by Robby Greenlee, May 7-8, 3 p.m., Bowdoin Chapel
Ray Cornils, organ, May 20, 7:30 p.m., Bowdoin Chapel

All concerts are free and open to the public. No tickets or reservations.

"I encountered the marimba bands as part of my ethnographic field work in graduate school," says Birenbaum Quintero. "I would go to different musical events and it would be me and little kids banging on the drums in between songs. That's the way people learn, by imitation, and that's how I learned."

The music, he says, is contagiously fun to play. All students play all of the instruments. Birenbaum Quintero went to Colombia to meet with a local craftsman who made all of Bowdoin's instruments. He also learned how to tune them.

"Music is part of everyone's everyday life, so it's a great way to have students examine aspects of society, politics, economic issues," notes Birenbaum Quintero. "Music isn't isolated from other parts of life."

The performance of Bowdoin's Afro-Colombia Marimba Band is free and open to the public.

Banner photo by Brian Wedge.

Story original posted as an Academic Spotlight April 27, 2011

It is the only college-based Afro-Colombian marimba band outside of Colombia.
— Michael Birenbaum Quintero