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The mbira is a gourd resonated lamellaphone played by the Shona people of Zimbabwe and surrounding regions. The mbira is a simple board with three rows of keys attached to it, often a few bottle caps as rattles and distinguished by a hole in the bottom right corner to hold the instrument with. The mbira is usually wedged inside a large gourd resonator called a deze, and held in place with two small sticks. Often the outside of the gourd is lined with more battle cap or seashell rattles.

The mbira is played using both thumbs and the right first finger producing a complex interlocking bass and melody. Often the instrument is played with another mbira player and a third musician playing the hosho rattles.

The most common type of mbira is the Mbira dzavadzimu with usually 22 or 23 keys. The Karanga and Zezuru people play the mbira dzemidzimu, which is almost identical in shape but with up to 29 keys. There are more modern mbira now in use in South Africa and Zimbabwe with almost double the amount of keys. Other modern innovations include amplifying the mbira with contact microphones and mbira samples for computers and samplers.

Country: Zimbabwe
Region: Africa
Type: percussion
Mbira - African thumb piano
©  R. Raine-Reusch, May 2002