The peaceful, lulling, polyrhythmic cycles of Shona Mbira music have become a world music staple. The international rise of Mbira began to gather steam after the 1976 publication of Paul Berliner's landmark book The Soul of Mbira (University of Chicago Press), although it's worth pointing out that ten years earlier, a stage show called Wait a Minim played at the John Golden Theatre in London, featuring Mbira music arranged and directed by Andrew Tracey, son of the legendary South African field recordist Hugh Tracey. These were early events in a steady process of discovery of Shona music around the world. Indeed the instrument is now studied and played by so many musicians, in the United States and Europe particularly, that there may already be more Mbira players outside Zimbabwe than within it. .
A Shona Mbira piece consists of a basic cyclical pattern, which includes numerous intertwined melodies, often with contrasting rhythms. The extensive possibilities for rhythmic and melodic variation render each performance unique. When two Mbiras are played together, the interlocking parts result in rich polyphony and polyrhythms. A traditional repertoire of hundreds of pieces is transmitted from generation to generation, and pieces popular today are known to have been played over 700 years ago. At traditional Zimbabwean ceremonies (mapira), ancestors are called by performing their favorite songs; thus, the same pieces are retained in the repertoire over the centuries.
Zimbabwe's Mbira is the primary traditional instrument of the Zezuru tribes of the Shona people, and has been played for over 1,000 years at religious rituals, royal courts, and social occasions. It consists of 22 to 28 metal keys mounted on a hardwood soundboard and is usually placed inside a large gourd resonator (deze). The keys are played with the two thumbs plucking down and the right forefinger plucking up.
The Mbira is to the music and culture of Zimbabwe what the bagpipes are to the people of Scotland or the Bazuki to the people Greece.
HAMPTON UNIVERSITY HAMPTON, VIRGINIA THE HUMANITIES PROGRAM African Culture: The Elements of African Language and Music The art that derives from our sense of hearing is music. The basic elements of music are sound and silence. Music has many purposes within all societies. Most music ...