The mbira of the Shona people of Zimbabwe is a musical instrument
of ancient origin with rows of hand-forged, tuned metal keys bound to a
wooden soundboard. The mbira is often decorated with
metal beads, shells or, more recently, bottle caps, which provide a buzzing
quality -- an integral part of the music.
The mbira player strokes the ends of the keys
with the two thumbs and the right index finger, producing ringing, polyrhythmic
tapestries that accompany stories, songs and dance.
Placing the mbira inside a large gourd resonator
(deze) amplifies and shapes the sound, allowing it to be
heard in group settings and bringing out the mbira's full tone.
Seed-filled gourd rattles called hosho usually
accompany the mbira, providing the rhythmic driving beat for both mbira
The player will show in this paragraph
While the mbira can be played solo, mbira
music is multi-part music and its full depth comes out when played by two
or more mbira players.
Mbira is commonly played by several mbira players, one or more hosho players,
and one or more singers (often the mbira players).
Mbira music has played a central role in the religious and
everyday life of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. At religious ceremonies
the mbira's sound draws the ancestral spirits down to earth, where they
possess spirit mediums and participants.
Mbira is a participatory experience. Accompanying the mbira and hosho
players you find everyone present participating in the experience — clapping,
dancing and singing.
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A seemingly simple instrument, the mbira's complex polyrhythmic
and polyphonic patterns have a quality and effect that is both profound
and impossible to communicate in words. The mbira’s sound has a special
presence; one feels the music as much as one hears it. Using words, audio
and video we hope to communicate here something of the mbira's beauty
This website is one person's attempt to contribute
a resource for those interested in learning about the mbira of
Zimbabwe. I am an American, playing mbira for 15 years and having
spent only a few months in Zimbabwe. I hope that this webite will
enrich the growing presence of mbira on the internet.
Such a web site can not begin to plumb the depth
and complexity of mbira and its spiritual and cultural contexts,
but I hope it will inspire you to listen and learn more — and
perhaps to begin to play mbira.
While I have done my best to present mbira as helpfully
and as accurately as possible, I acknowledge the difficulty in
any non-Zimbabwean trying to represent this rich tradition. I hope
that where correction or elaboration can improve this resource,
those who can help will contribute their expertise and experience
(using the contact button). I will in the near future add a discussion
forum to facilitate input from those who can contribute to making
this website more complete.
Sources of excerpted quotes can be displayed by placing
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For other sources see the sources
& resources page.