Instrument Series: Mbira

The Mbira (also known as the thumb piano and the sanza, or the marimbula or kalimba in the Caribbean) is a percussion instrument originating somewhere along the west coast of Africa around 3000 years ago. The instrument consists of 20 – 28 flattened metal or bamboo tines of varied length, with each length being a different pitch, attatched to a soundboard. It is sometimes placed inside a calabash resonator and played by stroking the tines with the thumbs and right index finger.


Traditionally, the mbira is used for ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals, for religious events, and for attracting spirits to those seeking their advice. Though its use in pop music is sparse, it can be found in the music of David Bowie, Wilco, King Crimson, Tinashe, and Nine Inch Nails to name a few. It can also be found in the songs Broken Drum by Beck and Evil by Earth, Wind & Fire.


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