BELIEVED to have existed for more than a thousand years, mbira music has stood the test of times.
It was developed over centuries, from a few modest wooden keys tensioned over a sounding block into the steel multi-keyed instrument of today.
Mbira music has been regarded as sacred until musicians such as Thomas Mapfumo popularised the genre and later blended it with Western beats.
Played in other parts of Sub-Saharan African countries and more developed in Zimbabwe, mbira has passed generations.
Mbira is a classic instrument of Zimbabwe associated with Shona people and its origins in other African countries has been linked to the migration of Bantu people.
In Zimbabwe, the most popular and developed type of mbira music is mbira dzavadzimu (mbira for the ancestors).
Mbira dzavadzimu is usually played at Shona religious gatherings. As an instrument, mbira dzevadzimu has lived through different cultural settings. Music expert, Hector Mugani, said the way mbira dzevadzimu has been played remained relatively the same from past generations until today.
“The intervals between the keys have remained the same although there is just a difference in micro-tones,” he said.
“Research has shown that there were deviations that have occurred in time but all the pitch relationships of the keys have continued to give the same mode throughout the generations.”
Mugani said the anatomy of the mbira dzevadzimu has also stood the test of time and the instrument was now being exported to other cultures in the world.
“Today, cosmopolitanism is one thing that has touched the mbira. In the US, for example, there are many mbira players, including whites, who are helping to take our instrument to new horizons,” he said.
He added that the instrument is now studied and played by so many musicians, in the United States and Europe.
“Today, mbira dzavadzimu has gained popularity throughout the world,” the music expert said.
“But, among Zimbabweans, supposedly the custodians of the mbira dzavadzimu, there are very few people interested in knowing or playing the instrument.
“As with other traditional objects or art works, the mbira is regarded with disdain and is associated with evil spirits.”
Zimbabweans need to reclaim their heritage as expressed in the mbira dzavadzimu in order to fashion a new 21st century inspired sound that will take the mbira dzavadzimu to a new, global level.