Marimba Madness: bittersweet performance for Williwaw

Feel like dancing? Or dessert? Or just a really great evening? 

Marimba Madness, the annual Homer Council on the Arts fundraiser, is Saturday at the Elks Lodge. The doors open at 6 p.m. with music by Shamwari, Tamba Hadzi and Williwaw Marimba starting at 7 p.m. 

 For the past five years Homer’s marimba community has gathered together to support HCOA. One group in particular is looking forward to the evening, which will be bittersweet for them.

Saturday will be Williwaw’s final Marimba Madness, as six members of the group will be graduating from high school this spring. The band plans to stay together through the summer for farmers markets and festivals, but in the fall will say good-bye to its college-bound members.

Kirk and Lisa Olsen, who built all the marimbas that will be used for Marimba Madness, began playing marimba in the late 1990s. In 2005 they formed an adult group which became Zuva Marimba. 

One of the members of Zuva had a young son, Patrick, who would come to practice with her. He started to tap out the rhythms, and soon joined the all-adult band as a full-fledged member. When he was in sixth grade he gathered some friends to play marimba, under the Olsens’s instruction. They performed a marimba piece at a local talent show, and Rufaro Marimba — an all youth marimba group — was born. 

Several years later both the youth and adult bands were about to lose members, so they decided to merge as “Williwaw Marimba.” 

Within this 11-member band, where ages range from 17 to 60, there are two mother-son pairs, six high school seniors, a college sophomore and four adults. 

“It’s been really fun to see how the young people in the group have grown with marimba in their lives,” Lisa Olsen said. 

Every person in the group has learned to work together as a team. They actively critique songs, take on the responsibilities of being the lead player, perform and occasionally even compose their own pieces.

“It’s been fabulous to be part of and to see the growth in all of us,” said Olsen.

Williwaw will be showcasing a brand new song at Marimba Madness this year, along with a couple of original compositions by high school senior, Patrick Latimer. 

All the music is upbeat and good for dancing, said Olsen, adding that they’ll keep playing until they close the house, as they are the final group on Saturday night. 

To mark their time together — a minimum of three hours a week for the past six years — the band is creating two CDs. 

The first is a live recording from their Solstice marimba party at the Elks in December. The second is a studio project they began working on this January with recording engineer Karl Stoltzfus, also a member of Shamwari Marimba. 

“It’s a way to commemorate that we had this wonderful thing together, and we don’t want to forget it,” said Olsen.

As Williwaw nears its end, Olsen said that after more than 17 years of marimba, she and her husband are ready for a change, and do not plan on recruiting a new generation of players.

Of the two other adults in the group, Janette Latimer has already begun playing with Tamba Hadzi, and Karin Sonnen is organizing a youth marimba ensemble at her church.

Beth Graber, of Tamba Hadzi, said by email that her group always looks forward to Marimba Madness. 

The only all-woman marimba band in Homer, Tamba Hadzi has members who have played together for 15 years. In that time, Graber said they have forged a strong sisterhood, with bonds that have endured and thrived. 

“As beautiful as the music is that we create together, we all feel lucky and blessed to be a part of something even greater,” said Graber.

Shamwari’s Jim Levine added his thoughts by email as well.

“Since this is such a showcase event, it is always a challenge to make sure we are putting together our best performance in front of our friends and peers,” he said. “It is a success if everyone has a great time and we play as good as we can.”

Dinner will be followed by a dessert and art auction led by Gary Thomas — and an evening of unforgettable marimba music.

Admission is $5 youth, $10 HCOA members and $15 general.

Toni Ross is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.


Marimba Madness


6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Elks Lodge

Cost: $5 youth, $10 HCOA members and $15 general



Formed: 2002

Meaning: “Friends” in the Shona language of Zimbabwe

Members: Jenny Stroyeck, Michael Armstrong, Julia Clymer, Jim Levine, Sue Post, Stephanie Migdal, Karl Stoltzfus, Jackie Forster and Greg Fries


Tamba Hadzi

Formed: Five of the members have been playing together since 1998

Meaning: Tamba is a Shona word meaning “Dance! Play! Sing!” Hadzi is a Shona word loosely meaning “female”

Members: Amanda Miller, Beth Graber, Cindy Koplin, Dorle Harness, Janette Latimer, Kim Greer, Suzanne Singer-Alvarez, and Wynn Levitt. Other members currently on sabbatical for various reasons are Heather Beggs, Janet Bowen and Sara Reinert. Standing in for them for this performance are Williwaw’s Karen Sonnen and Patrick Latimer.



Formed: 2011

Meaning: a strong windstorm found over
the ocean. 

Members: Axel Gillam, Brandon Beachy, Drew Turner, Janette Latimer, JJ Sonnen, Jonas Noomah, Karin Sonnen, Kirk Olsen, Lisa Olsen, Patrick Latimer, and Paul Trowbridge. Band member Drew Turner, is attending the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and will not be performing at Marimba Madness this year.