Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Dominican Marimba

     This instrument may be seen among the instruments from my collection in the photo at right.  In Dominican Republic, it is called marimba, but in other parts of the Caribbean, marimbula.  It is a "plucked-metal bass," technically known as a plucked idiophone, or lamellaphone.  It could also be called a "bass mbira" since it is a large variety of this type of instrument found in many parts of Africa.  In Dominican Republic today it is often replaced by an electric bass, but in more rural areas, it is still played.
    This marimba was made by Elio Trabal and me following a field trip to Dominican Republic in 2003, sponsored by the McNair Foundation.  We filmed and recorded a rural band called Nuevo Renacer led by Lorenzo Brito in the village of Rancho de los Platanos, in the mountains above the town of Moca.  His band had a marimba like this one, but smaller.  Based on photos, we built this replica.  It is painted in the Oberlin colors of crimson and gold, and decorated with a map of Dominican Republic, with a star marking Elio's home town of La Vega.  The tongues are stainless steel kitchen spatulas.  They produce three deep tones.  To play the marimba, you lean it against a wall (hence the curved back), sit on top of it straddling the tongues, and pluck the tongues with a chip of rubber.  At the same time, you hit the side of the box with a small tin can.

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