Ensemble of Handicapped Teen Musicians Performs at Teachers College
By McCarton Ackerman
While most people would consider a physical disability to be devastating, the members of Liyana see it as a chance to send a positive message of hope.
The band, which consists of eight physically disabled musicians from Zimbabwe, performed at Teacher’s College in Harlem recently to a full house. What initially started as a musical project to create one song together has led to national exposure and their first US tour. The members of Liyana are all either in their teens or early 20s. The bandmates, who met as students at King George VI (KGVI)in Zimbabwe, all suffer from physical disabilities. Many people in their country feel that disabled children bring shame and ill fortune upon their family, are often marginalized, and in some cases left to die. Several of the band members are also orphans.
“It was not difficult to see that a person with a disability has much hidden inside, and I believe that all arts allow people to express things that they wouldn’t normally be able to talk about,” said Inez Hussey, Mentor to Liyana. “If our disabled children are to survive in this country, they have to have confidence in themselves and it is our mission to build that confidence.”
Each of the band members, although limited physically, possess an infectious energy in their on-stage performances. They play a variety of instruments including marimba, African drums, and shakers, and fuse cultural and musical genres including gospel, reggae, and Zimbabwean Shona music.
The band was formed when lead singer Prudence Mabhena began to perform on her own at assemblies and singing sessions from the age of 12. She was eventually invited to perform in performances at KGVI with two other boys, Pharis and Marvelous, the latter of which would eventually go on to become part of the group.
“Liyana really started when Goodwell, Energy and Honest all came into KGVI in Form 1,” said Hussey.” We now had the basis of the band and at the same time we had a choir of 6 people with Prudence and Marvelous. After a year playing with ten members plus the choir, the band entered the Music Crossroads competition and were told they could only enter 8 people. Sadly at this time we had to divide the band and Liyana was born at that time.”
The band began to perform around the country and played several shows in the main Zimbabwean cities of Bulawayo and Harare. Their success has ultimately led to their first US Tour, which has received national press and acclaim for several prominent people in the music industry including Yoko Ono.
“For Liyana, going to the USA was the ultimate destination,” said Hussey.“They see as it as the place where everything happens and the height of recognition. So many people have made promises to the band over the years and the fact that this promise was kept is very important—it restores their faith not just in themselves, but in other people. They all have personal hopes for the tour, but even if their ultimate dreams don’t come true, to be able to say that they toured the States—that is an achievement!”
Liyana’s tour wraps up in the early Spring, but their exposure will continue on afterwards. They are the subject of a documentary which has just been picked up by HBO for distribution, and they look forward to possibly touring the US again in the future.
“ I think it’s important to show people that not everything that comes out of Zimbabwe is bad news,” said Hussey.“ We can show people in America that we have not all given up, that life goes on with enthusiasm. We are disabled, we are black and we come from one of the poorest countries in the world, but look what we have achieved—what a message!”#