An hour before school starts, the warm, toe-tapping sounds of Zimbabwean marimbas and African drums echo along the hallways of the Breck School in Minneapolis.
Teens at the private school eagerly roll out of bed early and show up at school on Saturdays for one reason:
"It's the music," teacher Carey Sirianni said.
Three years ago the energetic, boisterous teacher started a marimba club called "Bato Bato" -- Swahili for "the dancing place."
As far as anyone at Breck knows, it's the only high school marimba band in the state.
The Wisconsin native, who studied and taught in Zimbabwe, played for 15 years in a marimba band called Balafon, which she says once opened for the Grateful Dead.
"It has such a contagious energy to it, so I knew it'd be good for high schoolers," she said. "There are certain teenagers that aren't motivated, and this brought them in."
It did more than just catch a couple of kids' attention.
Three years later, it's morphed into the most popular club at the school. Nearly 30 students now jam on wooden marimbas, shakers or bongos.
"It's easy to fall in love with," senior Jeremy Bayer said of the music.
The students, who don't get any school credit for the club, participate, they say, simply because of the joy of the music.
"It's just taken a life of its own," Sirianni said. "To get a kid out of bed in the morning. ..."
Students have written their own musical arrangements, such as a take on a song by Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali. The group will perform several times this school year and plans to record a CD.
Last month, the group opened for Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, an internationally known band, in a performance at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. And on Oct. 29, the group will perform at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis. The free show will take place from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141