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‘Contagious joy’ keeps rhythm

Fri., June 4, 2004, midnight

When Coeurimba is hammering out its style of traditional Zimbabwean polyrhythms, even the most beat-challenged listener gets caught in the pulse.

The six-piece Coeur d’Alene marimba band has been keeping crowds vibing for the nearly two decades it has been sharing the sounds of Africa throughout Washington and Idaho.

“When I look out into the audience, the first to get it are the children and the babies, and that is the most contagious joy,” said Marga Snipes, the newest and only Spokane-based member of Coeurimba. “Adults aren’t too sure, but they enjoy it. There is a lot of chair dancing, but that’s OK. Toe tapping and hand clapping is a given.”

That rippling effect takes shape when Coeurimba performs today at 3 p.m. at ArtFest, 2316 W. First Ave., and again on Sunday at 3:15 p.m. at Post Falls Days.

Based on the sounds of mbira (commonly called “thumb piano” in Western culture), this earth-toned music first entranced Snipes when she saw a Seattle marimba group in the early 1980s. She began taking lessons from local teachers and traveling instructors from Africa in 1999.

“It was one of those haunting sounds I always knew I loved, but I didn’t know anything about the instrument,” said Snipes, whose musical roots are in African dance styles she performed with Michael Moonbear’s local world music dance troupe, Malidoma, and various drum and marimba circles.

Coeurimba plays high-energy dance music on large wooden xylophone-like instruments called marimbas, accompanied by Hosha shakers. The result is melodic innocence and rhythmic sophistication pounded out on instruments made by Coeurimba member Steve Meyer with Asian and African padauk woods for sopranos and Honduran mahoganies for the deeper baritone and bass sound.

While the current stock of music is traditional songs mostly from the Shona tribe, Coeurimba also is working on a few of its own compositions and arrangements of familiar songs by member Tina Gospodnetich.

Coeurimba sold out of its debut self-titled album (1999), but this week the band finished mastering a new album, “Knock On Wood,” which will be released this summer. It’s a live album of new songs recorded last year at The Shop, 924 S. Perry.


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