Photo Credit - Albert Chimedza

4 Little Known Facts About The Mbira Instrument

The Mbira plays (pun not intended) an important part of African Cultural uniqueness, more so for the Shona people from Zimbabwe. The instrument cum genre embodies History, Heritage and Religion; having gained steady acceptance evidenced by Zimbabwean musical icons such as Chiwoniso Maraire, Prince Musarurwa, Mbira dzeNharire and more recently Jah Prayzah and Ammara Brown. We are well into September, a month of mammoth significance to the Zimbabwean Mbira enthusiasts – the 5th anniversary of the Mbira Festival celebrations. Aimed at expanding global Mbira appreciation, awareness and practice. Here are some eye catching facts about the Mbira DzeVadzimu – the Shona Mbira instrument in honour of Mbira Month.


"Kasahwa" (2001) - A gwariva (mbira soundboard) by Zimbabwean artist Tapfuma Gutsa Part of The Mbira Centre permanent collection

“Kasahwa” (2001) – A gwariva (mbira soundboard)
by  Tapfuma Gutsa       (Mbira Centre permanent collection)


The unique sound that the mbira can produce is due to its musical structure. The traditional Mbira instrument consists of 22-28 metal keys on average, which are mounted on a ‘gwariva’ (hardwood soundboard), made from the Mubvamaropa tree (Pterocarpus angolinsis).

 The metal keys were originally made from rock containing iron ore, but now they are made from sofa springs, bicycle spokes, car seats and other recycled steel materials. So anyone can make the Mbira from any metal, provided it is suitable to play.

The mbira is usually placed inside a large calabash resonator (deze) to amplify it. The deze, often in the form of a calabash is used to produce a warm ear pleasing rhythm. A mutsige (stick) is used to wedge the mbira securely inside the deze.

Ever wondered what those bottle tops were for? The bottle tops are mounted on the deze to increase the buzz.

Customized Deze made and designed at the Mbira Centre. (Photo Credit : Albert Chimedza)

Customized deze made and designed at the Mbira Centre. (Photo Credit : Albert Chimedza)

They are said to add depth and tones of the Mbira keys as well as to increase volume.

Look out for some interesting Mbira inspired events across the country from Fashion to Art!

Munashe Chakaonda


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