Shona People and Music (Part 1)

Shona people are well-known for mbira music. Mbira refers to both the type of music and the instrument that produces the music.

Mbira is made by mounting at most 28 metal keys on to a piece of hard wood. The mounted piece will often be enclosed inside a big goud called gwariva or deze which is used to amplify the sound

Mbira instrument
Mbira instrument

In the above picture the deze can be seen decorated with bottle tops which will fuse the mbira sound with a whispering buzz for a percussion effect.

Though used for entertainment mbira instrument is  much more spiritual to the Shona people. Mbira music is hypnotic and often used as a key when one seeks audience with vadzimu (ancestors). For this reason missionaries who came to Zimbabwe precolonization discouraged the use of  this instrument calling it evil.

There are different types of mbira often differentiated by the number of keys on each instrument. The most common is the Mbira dzavadzimu (Mbira of the ancestors). Dzavadzimu has 22-28 metal keys. The smaller version of mbira is called Mbira nyunga nyunga which has up to 15 metal keys.

Mbira nyunga nyunga

Mbira music has survived among the Shona people for over 700years. Modern musicians fuse it with modern instruments to produce a unique sound. In my next article I will look at how Shona music has evolved into the modern sphere.

Meanwhile, here is a YouTube video to give you a feel of the mbira sounds of the Shona people.

5 thoughts on “Shona People and Music (Part 1)”

  1. I really enjoy your blog on Shona, I studied Shona Sculpture under the Late Artist Amos Supuni. On my blog I have written about him and Shona Sculpture. I have also written about other Artists from Zimbabwe as well. I enjoy Shona Music very much. I am excited to read part 2. Thank you for writing about your culture and country. We need more Zimbabweans to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for being here.
    I am also encouraged to hear that you enjoy reading about Zimbabwe and it’s culture. I am using this blog to also learn a lot about my roots.

    Thank you once again for joining me on this journey.


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