What happens when you post an image to a social media site and more than 5 people ask you what you are holding in your lap? This happened earlier this week. A very good friend of mine visited and brought along what we will call ‘an awesome buddy’, on a sightseeing trip. What started as an evening out posing with the ‘awesome buddy’ ended in many friends asking about the photographs that were taken on that day. It reminded me that cultures and what they come with are so diverse and that is the beauty of this life, that we learn new things everyday as we share snippets of the times with those around us.
I love learning about other people’s cultures and whenever I visit a new country or meet someone from a different place, I ask a lot of questions about traditions, culture, artifacts and things that are foreign to me. So I am more than happy to be in the ‘being asked’ seat when it comes to the culture that I know, and love giving insight and sharing notes and blog posts whenever I can.
This is the image that started it all….
Credit to the photographers Rutendo Denise and Takunda Chivizhe.
What I am holding on my lap is the mbira, a traditional instrument of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The melody that comes from this simple frame is something out of a musical paradise. The instrument is made of a wooden board with staggered metal keys. The big black cover (seen in the image) is called ‘deze’ and helps to amplify the sound of the mbira. This deze is typically made with a calabash or wood
This is what is looks like from the front end:
Pretty neat huh? I used to think that the mbira was native to Zimbabwe but after reading more about it, I discovered that it exists in other countries too. The name ‘mbira’ is mostly used in Zimbabwe. In Kenya they call it kalimba, ikembe in Rwanda and likembe in Congo.
The English call it a ‘thumb piano’ and I suppose this describes it well because you use your fingers to press on and release the metal strips in order to make sound. I am good with randomly plucking at the staggered metal keys…. I wouldn’t play for a crowd but I might get away with playing for a group of babies whose ear for musical prowess haven’t quite developed. Maybe I could even play a lullaby melody until they sleep. Maybe.
I know it was an entire waste when I actually got a chance to learn how to play mbira (in music class at high school), but chose to complain about how sore it made my fingers instead. **To all you teenagers who get a chance to learn mbira in school learn it, it is super cool even if you do not think so yet.
My first real love for mbira music came through listening to the music of Stella Chiweshe and the late, Chiwoniso Maraire. The energy that was in their performances attracted me to their music and now I am a big fan. There are different kinds of mbira used for different purposes. I found this website Zvembira for those of you who might like to know more.
So until the day I learn how to play a full song in the right notes, I am happy with randomly plucking away alongside my friend Ruti, who is more of a pro than I and even does spoken word in accompaniment!
Below is a one of my favourite videos and songs – a colllaboration between Chiwoniso Maraire and Max Wild. It shows how beautiful mbira music sounds and how it can accompany other instruments to make beautiful music.
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