1. Bulman, Alison


Listen to a podcast of Liyana's music and an interview with the performers at; click on "Podcasts."


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In 2003 eight disabled young people, ranging in age from 17 to 23 - five in wheelchairs, two on crutches, and one deaf-taught themselves to sing and play instruments and formed a music group. All students at the King George VI School and Centre for Children with Physical Disabilities in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, they called themselves Liyana-"it's raining" in Zimbabwe's Ndebele language. Six years later Liyana has dazzled audiences in the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, and now the United States. The group just completed its first U.S. tour.

Figure. Photographs ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Photographs by Astrid Schwartz; courtesy of the Jonathan Plutzik and Lesley Goldwasser Family Foundation.

Lead singer Prudence Mabhena, who was born with arthrogryposis, writes the group's Afro-fusion songs. When she was small, her grandmother told her mother to starve her; instead, Prudence's mother abandoned her at the age of four. Prudence lived with her stepmother, who told her she was "useless and nothing, like an ant."


But in the spirit of the school, whose motto is "Never Give Up," Prudence and the rest of the group have overcome their physical challenges and the pain of abuse and neglect. And they never gave up on their dreams. "Disability does not mean inability," Prudence says.


Thanks to corporate support and partnerships with universities and philanthropic foundations, Liyana arrived in the United States on January 1. Medical donations soon followed. Harlem Hospital designed a prosthetic arm to enable Prudence to feed herself for the first time. Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics fitted drummer and percussionist Goodwell Nzou with a new leg; his was amputated after a snake bite when he was a boy. And the Kennedy Krieger Institute is helping first marimba player Energy Maburutse manage his osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone syndrome). The group was awestruck at how accommodating American society is of physically challenged people. In Zimbabwe, once they leave school there are no sidewalks, rendering them literally stuck.


As Liyana traveled throughout the United States, camera crews traveled with them, filming an HBO documentary called Ithemba: My Hope. It will feature their story as well as performances at schools for the disabled, the House of Blues in Los Angeles, and New York City's famed Apollo Theater. Liyana also performed at New York's Roxbury Arts Center, where I interviewed the group and recorded their performance. Listen to the podcast at Also see a clip from the HBO documentary at Liyana's Web site ( and watch the group perform on CNN at


On the cover: in their American debut, Liyana performs to a full house at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York, on January 2.


On this page, from left to right, Tapiwa Nyengera, who has spina bifida (backup vocals and keyboards); Farai Mabhande, who has arthrogryposis (lead keyboards); Marvelous Mbulo, who has muscular dystrophy (backup vocals); Vusani Vuma, who is hearing impaired (bass marimba); Goodwell; Prudence; Honest Mupatse, who has hemophilia (tenor marimba); and Energy.


Alison Bulman, senior editorial coordinator