Beyond the music: Pick Up Sticks MARIMBA

Pick Up Sticks MARIMBA has been bringing the joys of Zimbabwean music to Boulder since 2007.

The complex multiple rhythms and interlocking melodies of Shona (people of Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa) music represent some of the oldest music known to man. Using the mbira (24-28 key thumb piano), hosho (gourd rattles), a variety of drums, and hand-clapping, in addition to voice and feet, Pick Up Sticks member Cory Potash never entertains a static audience. 

Potash sat down with The Boulder Source to give us the scoop on Pick Up Sticks and marimba music.

1. Why Marimba?

We all came to this music differently but I think ultimately, not only is this music joyful, but it is healing.  I think everyone who is attracted to it, ultimately finds a healing quality.


2. Do your songs tell stories? 

Some of them do and some of them are just dance songs.  Much of this music originates from the mbira which is a very old, spiritual instrument of the Shona people in Zimbabwe.  Mbira music is used in ritual and as a way to communicate with the spirit world about many things.  So many of the songs played on marimba come from the mbira.  Some songs are about the country’s independence and some are about the hard life in Zimbabwe.


3. What regions of Zimbabwe are the songs you play from?

The songs that are mostly played here in the US are not so much from a particular region of Zimbabwe as they are from the Shona People.  There are many tribes in Zimbabwe but the Shona are the dominant people and culture.  This tradition of music comes from the Shona and primarily from the mbira culture.


4. How many members are in the band?  

We currently have 5 members in the band.


5. Which is your favorite Marimba to play and how long have you been playing?

I have been playing marimba for 12 years.  We all play all the marimbas which are like a chorus with soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass.  I like to play the tenor marimba the most.  I like the tonal range, it’s sweet, low and rich and usually the parts are very rhythmic as well as melodic.


6. Do you ever have guest musicians play with you?

Yes.  We like to have guest musicians play with us.  Mostly it has been guitar, varying percussion or vocals.  It adds a lot to the depth of the music when others sit in.


7. What kind of tone does your music set (what reaction do you typically get from the crowd)?

This music is high energy, fun, foot stomping music for the most part.  Even the slower or more melancholy songs still provide a good dance beat.  People often refer to marimba music as “happy” music.


8. How can aspiring musicians learn Marimba locally?

There are a few private teachers in town, myself (,  Wendy Steinway and Andre Mallinger or you can go to the Kutandara Center which offers a variety of classes.



photo courtesy of Pick Up Sticks MARIMBA