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Seeing through sound.

Imagine traveling to a foreign country without a parent to hold your hand when needed. Now imagine that while there you step onto the World Stage with your group to perform in front of many Americans and people from across the globe but you cannot see their world. The five blind musicians of the St. Giles Special School were excited to be in Washington and a bit scared too. Theirs was the very first group from Zimbabwe ever to be invited to the WCF.

If you lose one sense, do the other four become stronger? This for true for them, as it was for blind singers like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Andrea Bocelli and Jose Feliciano. Every band has its rock star, and Tanyaradzwa Gondo was the one for the Mbira Band. Age 12, he has been a drummer for six years but can also play a bass guitar, a keyboard and the mbira (pronounced um-beeruh, a small keyboard-like instrument mounted inside a gourd). Tanyaradzwa can reproduce musical rhythms after simply listening to a new song. He is a regular player at his church in Harare.

Florence Makuyana, age 11, is a singer and plays the hoshos (a Zimbabwean instrument similar to marachas). She also dances. For those who prefer humor to music, Rumbidzai Ndoro, age 12, is the band's comic relief. Multi-talented, she warmed up the festival audience by telling a joke. Beauty Ngwende, at 13, is the oldest member and a vibrant mbira player. She sang songs while her thumbs worked the mbira. Japhet Wirirai, the youngest at age 9, is an amazing conga player.

The five performing artists could not see the festivities but enjoyed every performance, the music from different cultures, and the many languages in which other children greeted them. They liked the smell of the WCF and they spoke softly in English with everyone they met. Though opportunities for children with disabilities are limited in some places, Tanyaradzwa and friends proved that given the opportunity, they could do great things. While in DC, they created music and fun for WCF attendees and performed as special guests at the World Children's Banquet. They even presented an mbira to the Embassy of Zimbabwe.

Most promising of all is the seed that was planted for the future. St. Giles is committed to working hard to identify new talent and provide additional training. The WCF experience has provided the motivation and foundation to establish global networks with a common goal of supporting art and opportunities for children with disabilities. As the exuberant Rumbidzai said in a television interview after arriving back home, "This is the beginning of new and unique things for us, for our school, and our country after a long period of silence in arts for children with disabilities."

Trust Mutekwa is an mbira teacher and performan poet at St. Giles Special School in Harare and a graduate of the University of Zimbabwe.

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Title Annotation:St. Giles Special School's blind musicians
Author:Mutekwa, Trust
Geographic Code:1U5DC
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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