A tale of two mbiras

  • Tony Perman Grinnell College


This is the tale of two kinds of mbira from Zimbabwe: mbira dzavadzimu and mbira dzaVaNdau.1 Both began as narrowly localized instruments, but they’ve had very divergent fates over the past one hundred years. The mbira dzavadzimu has become widely known throughout Zimbabwe, a presence in popular music, and a potentially viable economic choice for some musicians. It is played throughout the world, and has become part of the ethnomusicological canon, a literal textbook example of world music (Locke 2009; Turino 2011). During the same period, the mbira dzaVaNdau has quietly faded into near anonymity and virtual disappearance in Zimbabwe.2 In this article, I explore the reasons for this divergence and the role ethnomusicology has played in this history and I ask, what is ethnomusicology’s responsibility when it becomes part of the tale it hopes to tell?


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How to Cite
Perman, T. “A Tale of Two Mbiras”. African Music: Journal of the International Library of African Music, Vol. 10, no. 1, Nov. 2015, pp. 102-25, doi:https://doi.org/10.21504/amj.v10i1.1228.