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Making traditional musical instruments

Traditional Zimbabwean musical instruments

1. The mbira

The Shona people have used the mbira for centuries. Sometimes called the thumb piano, it consists of a series of different length strips of cane or metal, fastened above a wooden sounding board. The player plucks these strips with his or her thumbs, creating a sequence of pitched notes or semi-pitched notes.

A mbira has between 22 and 28 keys. According to Simon Mashoko, a mbira maker and player from Bikita, players refer to the big long keys on the lower row as old men's voices, and those on the upper left as voices of grown, mature men. The single row is divided into voices of young men (to the left) and young women (to the right). To amplify the sound, the mbira is often put inside a resonator, like a gourd.

There are several different types of mbira. The mbira dzavadzimu (mbira of the ancestors) is used at religious functions because people believe that it helps communication between the living and the dead.



A 22 key mbira played inside a 13 inch fibreglass resonator. It is a vibes Dzemudzimu.

A mbira or thimb piano. Note the different sizes of the keys and how they are attached to the sounding board.
2. Hoshos
Hoshos can be made from almost any available hard, resounding material (a pumpkin gourd is an ideal shape). A hole is made in the gourd, its seeds are emptied out, it is filled with dried seed or pebbles, and the hole is plugged.

Hoshos can be played in pairs, one in each hand, or tied to the arms or ankles of a dancer.



A Zimbabwean hosho or rattle.

3. The ngoma
The ngoma is the African drum. It is the most widespread and traditional of all instruments - every tribe has its own word for 'drum' and most have made them for many centuries.

The barrel of the ngoma is often made from a hollowed tree trunk. The wider, top of the trunk, is covered with animal skin (such as cow or zebra) that has been stretched while it is wet. The skin is held in place with wooden pegs made from the chizhuzhu tree.

Drums produce different sounds depending on the material they are made from. Wooden drums produce soft sounds, while metal-rimmed drums sound tinny.







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