Mbira

World Music Instrument: The Karimba Mbira

We continue our series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that students in World Music in the Schools enjoy working with . . .

The mbira is a hand-held musical instrument that evolved in sub-Saharan Africa. In its many different forms, it is capable of producing both intimate singable melodies for meditation and vigorous percussive rhythms for dance. It can be used to delight and entertain, or it can be used to lend solemnity to religious ceremonies. Made from a small block of wood, with rows of tuned metal strips (lamellae) attached, the mbira naturally produces a subdued soft tone that can be amplified by placing it inside a large hollowed-out calabash gourd resonator (deze).

The mbira can be played as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble, with other mbiras or with drums (ngoma) or rattle shakers (hosho). When two mbiras are played together, each renders a different but complimentary interlocking musical part (kushaura or kutsinhira). As a native-trained teaching artist, I currently teach a solo mbira type from Zimbabwe—the karimba—in the San Diego K-12 public schools.

Garit Imhoff, World Music in the Schools Teaching Artist

See the mbira in action on YouTube. Also, San Diego students playing the Zimbabwean karimba.

View Teaching Artist Garit Imhoff in performance with Zimbeat on YouTube.