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June 23, 2007


Mbira is the music of our DNA. Its spiraling patterns, repetitive phrases and heart rhythms draw us into a trance-like oneness with the universe. Five to seven people each creating their own rhythm or storyline and weaving it together invite each listener to also connect and express our rhythms. Many people do that through dance—wild, ecstatic and beautifully rhythmic dance.

Specifically, an “mbira” is an instrument unique to Zimbabwe—a thumb piano of sorts, with metal keys attached to a wood board, sometimes with bottlecaps or metal items attached to resonate and add a tinny sound. The sound is magical, sweet. The complete mbira sound, though, includes someone on shakers—the most incredibly energetic and energizing shakers I’ve ever witnessed—and someone on a drum, hitting it with two sticks, and two or more mbira players… some low, some high, all with different rhythms, etc.

Here's a clip of a little kitchen mbira jam with James, my housemate:

Mbira music is traditionally part of ceremonies – all night rituals of music, dance and prayer.
The songs are stories and statements, layered into the enveloping sounds and spirit of the night.

In Harare, mbira shows are dotted through nightclubs and restaurants, a favorite Friday night activity for many. I was lucky enough to attend four or five mbira shows, each time bringing me to deeper respect for this music, tradition and culture. It's just awesome.

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