Joyous, energetic, foot-stomping dance music erupts from these hardwood keys, played by an ensemble of eight to produce a solid wall of interlocking rhythms and melodic lines.
Each wooden marimba note is suspended above a resonator tube for amplification. The tubes are capped at the bottom and have a hole in the side or endcap covered with a thin membrane that buzzes during play, producing the full, earthy sound that characterizes this music.
The Zimbabwean marimba is a modern invention, assembled in the early 1960's at the Kwanangoma College of Music in Bulawayo. The soprano and tenor marimbas have two octaves of keys, diatonic (the "white keys" of the piano") plus F#. The soprano, tenor, and baritone marimbas invented at Kwanangoma were augmented with a bass instrument by Dumi (Dumisani Maraire) when he began teaching marimba music in Seattle, Washington in the 1970's.
The mbira "of the ancestral spirits," also known as the "big mbira" (huru) or simply "iron" (nhare), this instrument of the Zezuru culture produces a heavenly, shimmering, resonant tone that lends itself equally well to meditative inner journeys and wild dancing.
The "sparkling" mbira of the Manyika culture belongs to the karimba family of instruments. Like the big mbira, it is played with the thumbs and right forefinger, which stroke the metal tongues to produce interweaving lines and rhythms.
The heartbeat of a marimba or mbira ensemble is the hosho player, who uses a pair of these deceptively simple-looking instruments to keep the pace.
Hosho are traditionally made from gnarly maranka gourds, hollowed out and partially filled with hard hota seed. Snapping the hosho so that the seed cracks against its interior wall makes the desired sound. It sounds easy enough, but hosho can be one of the most challenging instruments to play well.
A common rhythm played on hosho to accompany mbira music is a triplet pattern. Often the back-swing just before the beat is emphasized. Rather than accompanying the other instruments, the hosho often lead the way, cutting the rhythm and giving the music a fine edge.
Mbira music set to electric guitar has an exciting energy that always brings dancers to their feet. The electric band music of Zimbabwe is recognizable by its twining melodic lines and driving beat.
A resource for Zimbabwean music & culture worldwide
Copyright © 2000 by Paul Novitski. All rights reserved.
Instrument Icons by Lindsey Heider.