Musician | Ethnomusicologist | Arts ManageR | FILMMAKER
The Mbira (also: kalimba, sansa, marimbula, thumb piano, et cetera) is an African instrument generally constructed of metal tongues wedged between bars so that one end is left free to vibrate. This end is plucked with the thumb or fingers to create a sound that has been likened to "tiny angels". Often, wires, or, as seen to the left, bottle caps, are added to create a sound that is not dissimilar to distortion effects used on modern electric guitars. The Mbira is the national instrument of Zimbabwe, and has been played by the local Shona people for thousands of years. In the 20th century is found a new role, as a centerpiece in Chimurenga music (chimurenga means "revolutionary struggle" in Shona). Chimurenga music came to prominence with Thomas Mapfumo and other artists who used this amalgam of western rock and traditional Shona music to do their part in the struggle for independence from Britain. Shona music (including the modern Chimurenga style) contains what sound like intricate mish-mashes of different rhythms, generally based in a triplet feel (merrily-merrily... from "Row Your Boat" as opposed to the boom-boom-cha of "We Will Rock You"). One of the most famous tunes is "Nhemamusasa", which roughly translates to "Cutting Branches for a Temporary Shelter". I have two mbiras; the smaller is from Fair and Square Imports in McKinney, Texas. The larger of the two was purchased online and required a bit of time to adjust the tuning to the western diatonic scale. The format is laid out in an image below. It also has a quarter-inch plug and a built in pickup so it can be put through some cool effects like the one in the demo video.
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