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X87.516a, b Lamellophone


Object Name: Lamellophone
“thumb piano”
Place of Origin: Zimbabwe
Cultural Group: Shona peoples
Materials Used: Wood, metal, shell
Dimensions: H (of mbira): 22 cm, Diam (of resonator): 34 cm (H: 8.6 in, Diam: 13.3 in)
Credit line and Accession Number: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Helen and Dr. Robert Kuhn. X87.516a,b

The most important of several lamellophones performed by the Shona is the “mbira dza vadzimu,” or “mbira of the ancestors.” Its most significant performance context is at nightlong rituals called “bira,” which are designed to cure illness or solve other misfortunes brought about by neglected ancestors. The “mbira dza nadzimu” is typically played in ensembles of two or three instruments accompanied by a performer with a pair of gourd rattles (hosho) and one or more singers. The music is intended to summon ancestral spirits to possess spirit mediums and the afflicted person, who will not be cured until possessed by the spirit who caused the illness. The shells on the mbira and its resonator produce a buzzing sound that adds complexity to the music (see also Kubik, chapter 1 in this volume).

Source: DjeDje, J. C. (Ed.): “Turn Up The Volume! A Celebration of African Music”, Los Angeles: Regents of the University of California 1999. p. 240

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