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Mbira

Traditional Zimbabwean mbiras are now available at X8 Drums, so we though we'd take a moment to introduce you to this percussion instrument that has been part of African culture for over 800 years. Percussionist Joel Laviolette demonstrates the mbira in the video to the left. A seemingly simple instrument with an ethereal sound, the mbira is a soundboard made from wood with 6 to 33 metal keys attached on the top. Performers play the mbira by depressing and releasing the free ends of the keys with their fingers and thumbs. The keys, which are positioned at different lengths to create different pitches, can also be plucked for a performance effect.

When players depress and release the keys, the mbira produces a bell-like sound that has been described as fluid, tranquil, enchanting, and haunting. Some mbiras are placed inside resonators called dezes to enhance the sound. What’s really cool about the mbira, though, is its diversity. While the instrument can be played solo, the mbira produces both harmonic and rhythmic effects, which is why it’s often played with other mbiras. In fact, it’s the mbira’s complex rhythms and melodic variations that make its sound so captivating.

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