Many African mbiras are built with a resonator chamber as part of instrument.
An mbira's sound is somewhat soft and needs amplification
to be heard in most settings where others are listening or when hosho are
accompanying the mbira(s). But, because of its size, a permanently attached
resonator would be impractical for the mbira dzavadzimu.
For amplification the mbira is wedged into a hollowed-out
gourd or calabash (called a deze), which resonates and enriches
the mbira's sound. The calabash is usually boiled in salted water to
harden it, making ot stronger and less
breakable, as well as more resonant. The deze is usually strung with bottle
caps or shells that along with the mbira's buzz snare-like in sympathy
with the vibrations of plucked keys.
The player will show in this paragraph
Each key on the mbira emits a fundamental pitch
and a cluster of overtones; the resonator shapes, reinforces, prolongs,
and amplifies this complex tone. The buzzing bottle caps not only provide
rhythm to the music's texture but also add to the instrument's array
of tuned and untuned sounds. Tones overlap. The mbira's sound surrounds
the player. In this music, the whole is far more than the sum of the
Paul Berliner — The Soul of Mbira
Gourds large enough for an mbira are difficult to grow and are prized
by mbira players. In order to resonate well the gourd must be thin and
hard, and this makes them fragile and easily broken. It is not uncommon
for dezes to be stitched together to keep them usable.
In recent years dezes have been made from fiberglass. These are much more
durable, and hence easier to travel with. But they don't quite resonate
with the clarity and depth of a natural calabash.
Played in a calabash the tone of the mbira comes alive — full-bodied,
mellow, and rich. As well, the deze's shape affects the shape of the music.
As he plays interlocked polyrhythmic parts, the complexity
of the mbira’s music often gives the impression of more than one instrument
being performed. Musicians explain this phenomenon in part by the fact
that when they strike a sequence of keys, the keys’ pitches are sustained
in the gourd resonator, overlapping and intermixing. As several patterns
are repeated in a cycle their beginnings and endings become ambiguous;
new phrases appear in the music as one listens to the inner parts of