22 August 2007

Zimfest 101: Mbira

mbiraOn the surface, the mbira seems a simple instrument: just a handful of metal keys affixed to a piece of wood. But the mbira's importance in Shona culture (and beyond) is huge. It's been around as a fixture in Shona sacred and court functions for more than a thousand years. (mbira duo sample)

Like marimba, the mbira has a number of musical analogues and aliases: thumb piano, ikembe, kalimba, likembe. And within Shona musical circles, the mbira comes in different forms, including Mbira Dzavadzimu and Mbira Nyunga Nyunga (originally from Mozambique). You'll frequently see the instrument nestled within a calabash gourd. For more about the instrument and its history check out Wikipedia.

Some great traditional-style mbira players to check out include Garikayi Tirikoti, Stella Chiweshe, and Ephat Mujuru. Artists using mbira in more contemporary music include Chris Berry & Panjea, Yeshe, Guy Mendilow, Menwar, and Michael Spiro & Michael Williams' delightful combination of mbira with Cuban Bata drums, called BataMbira. And of course you can hear the influence of mbira in the guitar music of muscians including Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo.

Zimfest is replete with mbira performers and workshops, from beginning to advanced, and I hope to pick up some knowledge and skills there. So far I've been limited to dabbling with the Hugh Tracey alto kalimba I picked up earlier this year (which sounds like this).

[mp3] Ephat Mujuru: Song for Peace
from the album Songs and Fables from Zimbabwe (Music of the World)

Want to play mbira? check out the week-long mbira camp in California.

For more on the mbira, visit www.mbira.org
For more on Zimfest, visit www.zimfest.org

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