Google celebrates Zimbabwe's national instrument, the mbira, as the country begins culture week

Google is celebrating Zimbabwe’s national instrument the mbira as part of Zimbabwe’s Culture Week, with an interactive video that allows anyone to try their hand at the unique instrument.

The Google Doodle game tells the story of a young girl watching a mbira being played with great interest, before growing up and inspiring the next generation of mbira players.

The mbira has been played for over 1,000 years and plays an integral role in the traditions and cultural identity of Zimbabwe’s Shona people.

To ensure the Doodle was as original as it could be, the Google Doodles team took a trip to Zimbabwe and worked closely with some Zimbabweans to capture and share the heart of their culture.

The instrument, which originated in Southern Africa, is made up of a handheld hardwood soundboard, called the gwariva and has a series of thin metal keys affixed to its surface.

The mbira remains a vital cultural emblem of the community as it is often played in a variety of Shona ceremonies.

“One of the hurdles was definitely the narrative structure of the project: we wanted to make sure to reflect the culture of Zimbabwe and the Mbira as accurately and respectfully as possible but without reappropriating the history of it,” the Google team.

Through the music of the mbira the Shona people have been able to pass down over hundreds of years and generations.

What is the Mbira?

The mbira is considered the national instrument of Zimbabwe, traditional to the Shona people. It consists of a wooden board, often with a resonator, with attached staggered metal tines. The mbira is played by plucking the tines with the thumbs and fingers, while holding the instrument in your hands.

There are many kinds of mbira in Eastern and Southern Africa. The instrument is often played at religious ceremonies, weddings, and other social gatherings, sometimes accompanied by the percussion instrument the hosho.