Google Doodle Spotlights Zimbabwe's Traditional Music With Mbira

Google Doodle Spotlights Zimbabwe's Traditional Music With Mbira

Today's Google Doodle celebrates the mbira, a traditional Zimbabwean instrument whose sound has been popularised by musicians such as Stella Chiweshe, Leonard Chiyanike, Biggie Tembo and the Bhundu Boys, among many others.

Today's Google Doodle is casting into the spotlight one of the most central instruments to Zimbabwe's traditional music scene—the mbira. Often referred to as a "thumb piano" in the West, the mbira is responsible for the distinct melodies in a lot of the traditional music among the Shona people in particular.

While traditional Zimbabwean music is arguably not as popular as its Afro-jazz, rumba and dancehall contemporaries, it is a fundamental genre in many rituals, traditional ceremonies and some church services in Zimbabwe.

The instrument is made using the wood from the Mubvamaropa or "Bloodwood" tree in addition to steel wire which makes up the keys of the instrument.

LeonardChiyanike, perhaps one of the most well-known mbira players in Zimbabwe, speaks about the meticulous process of creating a single mbira saying, "If [the keys] are forged well and properly aligned, I need not worry about the sound because of the uniformity of how I forge them. There are a few variables in the way I forge them, and I guard against making keys too thick or too thin because, if that happens, the key will sound as if it is choked or muffled when one strikes it. It's a delicate process that I have mastered over the years."

Chiyanike, who can be described as a purist with regards to the mbira, says quite cautiously that, "Mbira is for the makombwe and vepasi (spirits) and it is not something you can just play around with." He adds that, "It's not something that we can just use for trivial entertainment, because it is for matare (consultation with a spirit) and serious traditional rites and rituals."

Other Zimbabwean artists who have popularised the mbira, in more secular settings however, include Stella Chiweshe, Biggie Tembo and the Bhundu Boys. Artists like Thomas Mapfumo and the late Oliver Mtukudzi were also known to dabble with the instrument in a few of their songs.

Watch the informative BBC video with Albert Chimedza, the Director of the Mbira Centre in Harare, here.