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Songs Featuring the Mbira from Smithsonian Folkways

The Mbira is a melodic instrument found throughout southern and eastern Africa that consists of thin metal strips of varying sizes fastened to a piece of wood or metal. Tones are produced by striking these metal “keys,” usually with the thumbs. The many types of mbira are distinguished from one another by their tuning, the number of notes available on the instrument, and the spatial arrangement of the keys. Of the following songs, all but one was recorded by ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey during the 1950s among various ethnic groups in parts of Zimbabwe and Zambia, formerly Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia. The assorted culture and language groups represented here use mbira with multiple tunings and structures, resulting in a great range of melodic possibilities.