The origin of mbira music belongs to the Shona people of Zimbabwe, where the instrument has been at the center of a musical tradition that dates back to the early nineteenth century.

Mbira music in Zimbabwe represents more than just entertainment. The mbira is used by master musicians to establish communication with the spirit world, and in sacred ceremonies for landmark events such as birth, marriage, and death. The mbira is also used for healing.

An mbira master must dedicate his life to the mbira and practice a lifestyle which is in harmony with its purposes. When performing a ceremony, the mbira master must play continuously for many hours, often days in order to achieve the desired level of communication with the spirit world.

The mbira usually consists of twenty-two keys, mounted on three manuals, two on the left and one on the right, on a tray-shaped soundboard with a finger hole in the lower right corner. The little finger of your right hand is placed into the hole from the front of the mbira and helps support the instrument while playing. In general, each of the mbira's three manuals encompasses a different range of pitches. The left bottom manual is the lowest register, the left upper manual contains pitches of a middle range, and the highest are played on the right manual. The lower pitches of each manual are in the center of the keyboard and there is typically only one pair of identical pitches on the instrument. The Shona Mbira is played with three fingers, the left thumb plays both manuals of keys on the left side of the mbira, while the right thumb plays the first inside three keys and the right index finger plays the outer six on the right manual. The thumbs pluck downward from above and the index finger plucks upward from underneath the keys.

(Note): The last paragraph of the Mbira text was taken from "The Soul of Mbira" by Paul F. Berliner, pg.34 &35, University of Chicago Press Edition 1993

Bata Djembe Dunun Mbira Talking Drum Supplemental Reading