In Shona music, the mbira dzavadzimu (“voice of the ancestors”, national instrument of Zimbabwe) is a musical instrument that has been played by the Shona people of Zimbabwe for thousands of years. The mbira dzavadzimu is frequently played at religious ceremonies and social gatherings called mabira (sing. “bira”).
A typicalmbira dzavadzimuconsists of between 22 and 28 keys constructed from hot- or cold-forgedmetal affixed to a hardwoodsoundboard(gwariva) in three different registers—two on the left, one on the right.
While playing, thelittle fingerof the right hand is placed through a hole in the bottom right corner of the soundboard, stabilizing the instrument and leaving thumb and index finger of the right hand open tostrokethe keys in the right register from above and below. The fingers of the left hand stabilize the left side of the instrument, with most fingers reaching behind the instrument. Both registers on the left side of the instrument are played with the left thumb and sometimes the left forefinger.
Bottle caps,shells, or other objects (“machachara”) are often affixed to the soundboard to create a buzzing sound when the instrument is played. In a traditional setting, this sound is considered extremely important, as it is believed to attract theancestral spirits.
During a public performance, anmbira dzavadzimuis frequently placed in adeze(calabashresonator) to amplify its sound.
Thembira dza vadzimuis very significant inShonareligionandculture, considered a sacred instrument by natives. It is usually played to facilitate communication with ancestral spirits. Within the Shona tradition, the mbira may be played with paired performers in which thekushaura, the caller, leads the performed piece as thekutsinhira, the responder, “interlocks” a subsequent part.
The Ritual is known as the Bira. During these all night ceremonies, people call upon the spirits to answer questions, the variations of notes in an Mbira piece aid the participants by going into a trance in which it is said in shona culture aid the spirits in taking over the participants body.