31 May 2007


The mbira is a musical instrument consisting of a wooden board to which staggered metal keys have been attached. It is often fitted into a deze that functions as a resonator. Mbira performances are usually accompanied by hosho. Among the Shona there are three that are very popular.

Mbira dzavadzimu is often played at mapira (religious ceremonies and social gatherings). The traditional mbira dzavadzimu is usually made up of 22 keys on three different registers, two on the left and one on the right.

The mbira dzavadzimu is constructed from 22 to 28 strips of cold or hot forged metal of varying lengths affixed to a hardwood gwariva or soundboard. The gwariva has a hole in the bottom right corner through which the little finger of the right hand is placed while playing, allowing the right thumb and index finger to pluck the high notes from above and below the keys.

There are usually several bottle caps, shells or other objects affixed to the soundboard (known as machachara) which create a buzzing sound when the instrument is played. This sound is known to attract the ancestral spirits

The keys are arranged in three rows, two on the left and one on the right. The bottom-left row contains the bass keys, the top-left row the middle-range keys and the right row a combination of the secondary bass keys and the high keys.

Religious and social significance
The Mbira Dzavadzimu is very significant in Shona religion and culture, the national instrument of Zimbabwe, and is sacred.

With an enduring history of over 1,500 years, it has been traditionally played at both religious ceremonies and social gatherings, most often when communication with the ancestor spirits is desired or when necessary within the royal Shona Courts. However, the use of Mbira has diversified in modern times. In the ancient days songs for guidance, success in the hunt or battle, or for healing, were prevalent whilst today, one can listen to "new compositions" about love or politics.

Shona Songs

* Karigamombe - means "undefeatable"
* Mahororo - named after a small river in Zimbabwe, used to welcome hunters home after long hunts
* Nyamaropa - literally means "meat and blood" and is considered among the oldest of mbira music. and mig the first piece composed for the instrument. Although it may have originally been a song to prepare for battle, it is now considered a hunting song.
* Nhemamusasa - A musasa is a shelter hunters would build while away from their homes. Like nyamaropa this song was also once associated with war, but is now used as a hunting song.
* Kuzanga - Chartwell Dutiro explains that the title means "to thread beads," and states it is a "song about an old woman who stays in the forest alone, making beads for her ancestors. For the old woman, making beads for the ancestors is living happily and free from fear."
* Taireva - it expresses the importance of what is on your mind, and listening to your elders and is also a derivation of nyamaropa
* Vadzimu - This is a version of nyamaropa played by the contemporary Shona musician Fabio Chivhanda. Also known more generically as "Nyamaropa yaChivhanda"
* Bangidza or Bangiza - is understood to be a very ancient spiritual song and is reported to date back to the 14th-16th century, during the time of Mwenemutapa.
* Marenje - a song typically played on the gandanga (mavembe) tuning of the mbira (as is Ngozi ye Muroora).