International  •  Southern African »


Mbira (also called sansa, likembe, budongo, and kalimba) is a widespread name for the hand piano found in central and southern Africa. It is unlike Western pianos, however, as indicated by the "scales" played on the instrument. The nearest word for a scale does not refer to the intervals in an octave: "mutalvha" may refer to the set of 24 heptatonic stopped pipes used for tshikona, the 12 pentatonic stopped pipes used for givha or visa, or a row of keys on the xylophone or "mbira" (the lamellaphone is often referred to as a hand piano). The mbira is used in the accompaniment of such dance forms as jit and chimurenga. Both are popular and important dance forms with roots in the traditional mbira music of Zimbabwe's Shona people. In 1986, the Bhundu Boys exposed England and Scotland to jit, touring and performing for receptive audiences. Most jit music is lighter than chimurenga, which relies more on the traditional mbira instrument's rhythm and sound. Chimurenga has roots in the mbira music and Bira religion of the Shona people. During the colonial period and under later white rule, traditional musics were repressed. The mbira has a strong role in the traditional Bira religion. When played at Bira ceremonies, the mbira is believed to be a way to communicate with the ancestors. Because of the mbira's connection with traditional religion, missionaries tried to prevent its use. As a result, mbira music represents the struggle and persistence of Shona culture and is viewed by many as Zimbabwe's national music. Ephat Mujuru has made the mbira music familiar to international audiences by giving concerts and presentations of mbira music around the world.