Liyana, Afro-fusion musical group, performs Saturday in Roxbury

By Julia Green
It is a country that spent its fair share of time in the national news spotlight in recent months for many of the wrong reasons, including a disputed presidential election, a major outbreak of cholera, and an inquiry into the country’s diamond-mining process following claims that the industry was plagued by violence and other transgressions.
But the Zimbabwean “diamonds in the rough” that are coming to the Catskills at the end of January have little to do with the mining of precious stones.
Liyana, an Afro-fusion musical group from Zimbabwe, is scheduled to perform at The Roxbury Arts Group this Saturday as part of its first-ever U.S. tour. The group is comprised of eight band members ranging in age from 17 to 23, all of whom suffer from severe physical disabilities, and is the subject of a documentary that was recently picked up by HBO for distribution. The documentary, titled “iTHEMBA: My Hope,” was directed and produced by Roger Williams and produced by Elinor Burkett, who met in Roxbury. It will be released worldwide late this year.
Liyana is fronted by two singers, Prudence and Marvelous, who are backed by fellow performers playing marimba, African drums, shakers and keyboards. In addition to English, the group performs in Shona and Ndebele (both native languages to Zimbabwe) as well as Dutch, German, Hebrew and Spanish. Liyana interlaces the mix of languages with a variety of musical genres including gospel, reggae and traditional Zimbabwean Shona music to create a fresh, vibrant sound all its own.
Band members met and began performing as a group in 2004 at the King George VI Centre, a school for disabled children in Bulawayo that provides boarding and rehabilitation to children with physical disabilities and hearing impairments. Between the eight band members, disabilities range from spina bifada and muscular dystrophy to severe hearing impairment and congenital disorders. Two band members are amputees.
The self-taught musicians perform with a message that they say is directed toward “anyone struggling to rise above imperfect circumstances: ‘If we can do this, so can you.’”