Thumb Piano (Mbira)

History of the thumb piano (Mbira or Kalimba)

Throughout Africa Mbira music is one of the most ancient and popular traditional forms of music. In Zimbabwe, Africa, the Shona people have used it not only for entertainment but also for important occasions such as the coronation of chiefs and religious ceremonies.

In ancient times, Shona chiefs employed large bands of mbira players in their courts. The bira, a religious ceremony for ancestral spirits, is an exciting event filled with pathos. In its context, the mbira is thought to have the power to project its sound into the heavens and to attract the attention of the ancestors. In the hands of skillful musicians, the mbira can draw spirits down to earth to possess mediums. At a bira the entire village participates throughout the night, dancing, laughing, and sometimes crying, thinking deeply of departed relatives who are unable to share the evening with them. After as many as ten hours of continuous singing and dancing, the music may culminate in the dramatic and sometimes violent possession of a spirit medium. The music stops temporarily while a seance is held and the spirit advises the villagers about their problems. After the spirit announces its departure, the music begins again and continues through the early morning until sunrise.
[ The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People, Nonesuch Records Explorer Series. ]

Hear the single Mbira and the Bass Mbira on 'Water Drum' from 'Rain Trance'.