The mbira of the Ndau

Mozambique and Zimbabwe in 1972


  • Andrew Tracey Rhodes University, ILAM (International Library of African Music)



Hexatonic, Kubempa, Mbira, Mbira dza vaNdau, Mozambique, Murombe, Ndau, Shona, Shangana, Zimbabwe, Tunings, Transcriptions


The article, arising from research done in 1972, follows on the author’s series of analyses of the instrumental music of the Shona and Sena peoples of the Zambezi Valley. The analyses in this article focus on the relatively unknown mbira of the Ndau. The article describes its hexatonic note layout, highly variable tunings, and its variations among the Ndau-and Shangana-speaking groups in Southeast Zimbabwe and adjacent regions of Mozambique and South Africa. It includes the historical effect of the Shangana invasion of the nineteenth century into Mozambique. The article further discusses the transcription of the mbira’s music, in staff or the author’s own tablature, with detailed description of the latter. It compares Ndau with Shona concepts of ownership of songs, the practice of kubempa as used by Ndau travelling musicians and the difficulties of working in pre-independence Mozambique. The article presents songs in tablature, some by Bonisa Sithole, the author’s field assistant.

Author Biography

Andrew Tracey, Rhodes University, ILAM (International Library of African Music)

Andrew Tracey, MA, followed his father Hugh Tracey, pioneer of African music studies, as Director of the International Library of African Music, focusing on the theory and playing of African instruments such as mbiras, xylophones and panpipes in the countries of the Zambezi valley region. He was instrumental in the invention of the modern Zimbabwean marimba groups and in their introduction, as well as that of the Trinidadian Steeldrum, to South Africa. He is concerned with promoting the knowledge among Africans of all original music traditions, such as the Chopi timbila xylophone music of southern Mozambique and the Shona matepe of Zimbabwe. He has published regularly in this Journal.


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How to Cite

Tracey, Andrew. 2022. “The Mbira of the Ndau: Mozambique and Zimbabwe in 1972”. African Music : Journal of the International Library of African Music 11 (3):1-32.

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