mbira

Mbira

 Mbira is a Shona name of a family of African instruments that are constructed by attaching a series of tuned metal or wooden strips to a wooden board.  The numbers of keys vary form a bout 5 to about 52 depending on the type of mbira. The Mbira is played by using thumbs and the index finger.

Members of this broad family of instruments are known by a wide variety of names, such as likembe, mbila, thumb piano, mbira huru, mbira njari, mbira nyunga nyunga, sansu, zanzu, karimbao, marimba, karimba, kalimba, likembe, okeme, ubo, or—between the late 1960s and early 1970s— sanza, as well as marímbula (also called kalimba) in the Caribbean Islands)

Certain types of Mbira holds a special spiritual role in the lives of different Shona speaking dialects (as is to be illustrated later)and some mbira basic role is entertainment.

 

This instrument is also well spread across Africa and it’s also closely linked to the route of the Bantu migration meaning it has been part of the Bantu people for a long time and hold a unique part in the history of the people.

Mbira dzavadzimu

In Shona music, the mbira dzavadzimu ("voice of the ancestors", national instrument of Zimbabwe) is a musical instrument that has been played by the Shona people of Zimbabwe for thousands of years. The mbira dzavadzimu is frequently played at religious ceremonies and social gatherings called mabira (sing. "bira").

 

A typical mbira dzavadzimu consists of between 22 and 28 keys constructed from hot- or cold-forged metal affixed to a hardwood soundboard (gwariva) in three different registers—two on the left, one on the right.

 

While playing, the little finger of the right hand is placed through a hole in the bottom right corner of the soundboard, stabilizing the instrument and leaving thumb and index finger of the right hand open to stroke the keys in the right register from above and below. The fingers of the left hand stabilize the left side of the instrument, with most fingers reaching behind the instrument. Both registers on the left side of the instrument are played with the left thumb and sometimes the left forefinger.

 

Bottle caps, shells, or other objects ("machachara") are often affixed to the soundboard to create a buzzing sound when the instrument is played. In a traditional setting, this sound is considered extremely important, as it is believed to attract the ancestral spirits.

 

During a public performance, an mbira dzavadzimu is frequently placed in a deze (calabash resonator) to amplify its sound.

 

The mbira dza vadzimu is very significant in Shona religion and culture, considered a sacred instrument by natives. It is usually played to facilitate communication with ancestral spirits. Within the Shona tradition, the mbira may be played with paired performers in which the kushaura, the caller, leads the performed piece as the kutsinhira, the responder, "interlocks" a subsequent part.

 

The ritual is known as the Bira. During these all night ceremonies, people call upon the spirits to answer questions, the variations of notes in an Mbira piece aid the participants by going into a trance in which it is said in Shona culture aid the spirits in taking over the participant's body.

 

Mbira Nyunga Nyunga

Jeke (Jack) Tapera introduced the mbira nyunga nyunga in the 1960s from Tete province of Mozambique to Kwanongoma College of African music (now United College of Music) in Bulawayo. Two keys were then added to make fifteen (Chirimumimba, 2007), in two rows. The mbira nyunga nyunga is similar in construction to the mbira dzavadzimu, but has no hole in the soundboard. Key pitch radiates out from the center, rather than from left to right.

 

Zimbabwe's Dumisani Maraire originated mbira nyunga nyunga number notation. The upper row keys (from left) are keys 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 while the bottom row keys are notated as 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15. Maraire brought awareness of this instrument to the United States when he came to the University of Washington as a visiting artist from 1968-1972.

 

Recently a Midlands State University (Gweru, Zimbabwe) lecturer in the department of music and musicology has suggested a letter notation; the upper keys as (from first left upper key) E, D, C, F, C, D, and E and the lower or bottom keys as (from the first lower key) A, G, F, A, F, C, D, and E. But the Maraire number notation has remained the internationally accepted system (Chirimumimba, 2007).

 

Mark Holdaway of Kalimba Magic has introduced a graphic form of tablature for the karimba, and traditional karimba tunes as well as modern songs and new compositions and exercises are available in this tablature.

 

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