April 19, 2008 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Ever since I first heard mbira from Zimbabwe almost 30 years ago (via this record), I've been a lover of that enchanting, delicate and intricate music. It's only recently, however, that many of us who aren't actually players of the mbira could see just how the instrument is played: Holding the mbira, and scales - Lesson One - Two - Three - Four, and more and more. And here are some recommended mbira players and groups with MySpace Music pages worth checking out: Spirit Talk Mbira - Mbira Oracle - Kunzawa Mbira Group - Joel Laviolette.

Special honors to Thomas Mapfumo, who, many years back, took the mbira style and spirit and adapted it to electric guitars, in an inspired and joyous fusion of the ancient and the modern.

This page from All About Jazz reviews the Nonesuch label's releases of Shona mbira music.

This YouTube clip features a tune from another of the Nonesuch releases, The Soul of Mbira, a collection of recordings made by ethnomusicologist and author Paul Berliner. Recommended.

There'll no doubt be plenty of mbira music to be heard at Zimfest 2008, this coming July in Tacoma, Washington.

Finally, here's Dangurangu. For your ears only.
posted by flapjax at midnite (18 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
mmmm... mbira!
posted by jammy at 7:20 AM on April 19, 2008

A lovely instrument. Also check out the Array Mbira featuring loads and loads and loads of keys!
posted by TheWaves at 7:31 AM on April 19, 2008

Paul Berliner and his primary teacher Cosmas Magaya just played at Columbia University in New York -- an amazing concert.

Magaya is in the US at Duke University for the entire semester; there is a great magazine article about his residency and work with Paul here

And a small video clip with Cosmas demonstrating mbira technique is here

Thanks for the post flapjax; mbira music is one of the great treasures of human musical accomplishment, and in these sad times for Zimbabwe a reminder of how much that country has to offer the world.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:32 AM on April 19, 2008

flapjax, these posts are half the reason I visit the blue.
posted by danb at 8:18 AM on April 19, 2008

As near as I can tell, the track "Taireva", credited to "Shona People of Rhodesia" on the Four Tet DJ-Kicks album is an example of mbira music, and if so, I think it's beautiful.
posted by kcds at 8:24 AM on April 19, 2008

These vids sure would have helped me back in the 70's when I used to tune my kalimba to a blues scale and try to riff like Maurice White used to on those Earth Wind & Fire tracks!

Best mbira loop in hihop: "Feel The Vibe" by Diamond D

Down here in the Caribbean, we have the bass variant of mbira known as the marimbola, which in Puerto Rico you hear in bomba and stuff, but the ultimate is in Jamaica where you have the mighty rhumba box! Usually associated with mento, I have seen rastas using it along with niyabinghi drumming.

Thanks for another great music post, jax!
posted by bonefish at 8:39 AM on April 19, 2008

Laura Barrett plays kalimba and is awesome.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:58 AM on April 19, 2008

Bookmarked, thanks!
posted by ersatz at 9:09 AM on April 19, 2008

here you can test your skills
posted by motownoni at 9:14 AM on April 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mandatory favorite.
posted by Mblue at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2008

I thought the lesson four link sounded familiar - Penguin Cafe Orchestra covered the song on one of their albums. Now I know what the beautiful sounding instrument was that they used. Thanks!
posted by driveler at 1:20 PM on April 19, 2008

It's only recently, however, that many of us who aren't actually players of the mbira could see just how the instrument is played

Technically, reading about how to make and play the mbira in Dr. Berliner's book The Soul of Mbira (1973) counts as seeing, doesn't it?

I took Berliner's Music of Africa survey course in the 90s and have been crossing paths with him ever since. Good guy. Great work.
posted by billtron at 4:41 PM on April 19, 2008

Indeed, driveler, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra no doubt heard and transcribed that tune from the Nonesuch release linked to in the FPP. For me, that particular record, 31 years after its original release, is still one of the very best representations of Shona mbira music. Anyone who likes this music is urged to get ahold of it!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:43 PM on April 19, 2008

Thanks for these, f.a.m.!

Mbore mbira -- Konono No. 1 (previously) and R. P. Collier. I saw Konono at Bowery Ballroom last year - incredible!
posted by moonmilk at 6:34 PM on April 19, 2008

Good stuff! My brother and I always had mbiras and kalimbas to plunk while we were growing up...the soothing, quiet tones made a good time-out accompaniment. Decades later, it's one of the 3 instruments with which he always travels, and the housewarming gift he brought to Gifu was one he had hewn just for us. He teaches music appreciation seminars to at-risk teens and one his most popular assignments every year is the building, tuning and subsequent performance of mbira.

Once again, I'll be forwarding him your links. Ta.
posted by squasha at 8:02 PM on April 19, 2008

This is great flapjax. I have one collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. I am going to find it and use the lessons to try and play something for a change -- I'm tired of listening all the time.

(I stumbled upon this cool Mahotella Queens vid last night.)
posted by vronsky at 10:42 PM on April 19, 2008

Great Mahotella Queens clip, vron. Very nostalgic, that. Back when real guitarists, bass players and drummers were backing up singers with that rock solid, locked township jive sound. Most everything I've heard in recent years from SA has been programmed: drum machines, cheap synth sounds... just not the same.

I was fortunate to see the Queens back in the early 80's, in New York City's S.O.B.'s, an intimate venue where you could get right up close to the stage. The band kicked total ass, and the vocals (and moves) were, of course, superlative.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:59 AM on April 20, 2008

Wow flapjax! that must have been amazing!

I was lucky enough to visit Africa once. On a college trip. We spent three weeks in Tanzania camping on the Serengeti. Finishing at Ngororo crater. Easily one of the best trips I have ever taken. I hope to go back one day.
posted by vronsky at 10:26 AM on April 20, 2008

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