History of the Mbira – played for 1,000 years with no two performances the same


Google is celebrating Zimbabwe’s Culture Week with an interactive doodle of the Mbira – a musical instrument traditional to the Shona people. The game tells the story of a Zimbabwean girl who watches the mbira being played as a child, before growing up and becoming a famous musician herself.

It encourages users to virtually play both traditional and modern songs on the instrument, which has been played in its current iteration for over 1,000 years.

The mbira plays a part in many traditions and ceremonies of the Shona people, and songs are passed down through generations.

It is played at weddings and at social gatherings – and while it used to be traditionally played by only men, now many women are taking up the instrument.

The mbira lends itself to improvisation and personalisation, which means that no two performances are alike.

It consists of a wooden board with attached metal tines. To play it, you pluck the tines with your fingers.

A wooden version of the mbira – with bamboo tines instead of metal – was first created in West Africa 3,000 years ago.

The version that exists today, with metal tines, has been around for 1,300 years.

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