A Shona song from Zimbabwe, praising the Mbira‐player for his musicianship. The Mbira, which is sometimes called a hand‐piano, is described in Lines 24–29. It has two (sometimes three) keyboards, made of metal strips, which are plucked with the thumbs, and it is set in a hollow gourd to increase the resonance. The gourd is decorated with shells, which rattle to provide a rhythmic accompaniment.
It is a versatile instrument, offering the player and singer a great range of effects. In this song, the words ‘Expert With The Rattling Shells’, ‘The Mbira‐Shatterer’, ‘He Who Makes The Mbira Resound’, etc, are all praise‐names.
Strike the Mbira, Expert With The Rattling Shells!
It is he The Mbira‐Shatterer of whom you hear nothing but praise,
He Who Makes The Mbira Resound:
He makes it resound for Nehanda and for Mukombwe. (1)
Gore ndende -e!
Ho‐o yewo, I’m like a wanderer, ihe, ihe‐ewo!
Ho‐o, the dead have left us beer and meat.
Ho‐o yewo, I’m like a wanderer, ihe‐e, ihe‐e!
He, ndeha ndeha! Ndeha ndeha ndeha!
Ho‐o, why did my father die, my father, a wanderer?) (2)
Strike the Mbira now, Master Of The Music.
By my mother, Marumbi,
Whose name is always on people’s lips.
The mother who begot you, bringing forth such a world of talent,
Had she not borne you, she would have died on your account.
Listen to the sound of the Mbira!
The Mbira‐Rouser is here,
The lover of all the girls.
Where he dies it will be fertile,
Seeds of the castor‐oil bean will come forth.
Set the Mbira firmly, Expert With The Rattling Shells,
And strike the Mbira calmly: First the centre pole,
Then afterwards the small roof‐rafters,
And finally the smallest keys on the right;
And see that the community joins the solemn spirit of the occasion.
See the bride you have been given here:
Listen to the dance!
Strike the keys and let the forest be glad!
Look, the spirits now have honoured you!
from Shona Praise Poetry
ed. Aaron C. Hodza & George Fortune,
Oxford University Press (1979)
- Mukombwe was a king of old Zimbabwe in the late seventeenth century; Nehanda was one of his wives.
- The lines in parenthesis attempt to mimic the mbira-player’s song, both words and music.