The equidistant heptatonic scale of the Asena in Malawi

  • Wim Van Zanten Dutch mathematician and musician, taught at University of Malawi


The musical scale of the Sena people of Southern Malawi can be characterised as an equidistant heptatonic tone system. Kubik (1968) reports: The equi-heptatonic tuning with its standard interval of 171 cents gives an unmistakable sound to the Asena bangwe. The same scale is used for the tuning of the large ulimba xylophones. The bangwe (a board zither) and the ulimba, belong, next to drums and rattles, to the most common instruments of the Asena in the Lower Shire Valley of Malawi.


Kubik, G. 1968, “Ethnomusicological research in Southern parts of Malawi”, The Society of Malawi Journal, XXI, 1, 20-32.
Lehiste, Ilse, 1970: Suprasegmentals, The M .I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Scott, D.C. & Hetherwick, A.1929, Dictionary of the Nyanja language, Lutterworth Press: London (reprint 1965).
Tracey, A. 1970, “The Matepe mbira music of Rhodesia”, African Music, IV /4, p. 37-61.
Tracey, A. 1972, “The original African mbira?”, African Music, V /2, p. 85-104.
Tracey, H.1970, “Chopi Musicians”, Oxford University Press, 1948, London, reprint with a new introduction.
Wasisto, S., P.J. Sudarjana & A. Susanto, 1972, “Tone measurements of outstanding Javanese gamelans in Jogjakarta and Surakarta”, Gadjah Mada University Press: Jogjakarta, (second revised edition from the first edition in the Indonesian language, 1969).
How to Cite
Van Zanten, W. “The Equidistant Heptatonic Scale of the Asena in Malawi”. African Music: Journal of the International Library of African Music, Vol. 6, no. 1, July 1980, pp. 107-25, doi: