The African Mbira also called the Kalimba or Thumb Piano has metal keys mounted on a hardwood soundboard or a gourd. These keys are plucked and struck with the fingers and thumbs. If the keys are mounted on a soundboard then they are usually played inside large gourd resonators decorated with shells or in modern times bottle tops. The shells or bottle tops give off a rattle or buzzing sound. Gourd rattles called Hosho provide rhythmic accompaniment for the Mbira.
The repertoire for the mbira dzavadzimu (one of the major mbira traditions or styles) is extensive; it is said to consist of as many as 100 compositions passed down orally from one generation to the next.
Hear the single Mbira and the Bass Mbira on 'Water Drum' from 'Rain Trance'.
The Jamaican Thumb Piano to the left is used as a bass instrument. There are bottle caps attached to each metal tine which create a buzz in the sound. The player sits on the box and hits the keys between his legs.
Read about the history of the African Thumb Piano.