What is the mbira? Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the African musical instrument


Today’s Google Doodle is an interactive game that lets you play the mbira, a popular Zimbabwean instrument.

Thursday, May 21 marks the beginning of Zimbabwe’s Culture Week, and Google is celebrating the day with a game that teaches people traditional and modern songs to play on the mbira.

The game tells a story of a young girl watching a mbira being played, before growing up and playing the mbira to large crowds herself, and inspiring young children to also learn to play.

Google users are challenged to play four traditional and modern songs by clicking the right keys when instructed.


Google Doodle staff traveled to Zimbabwe before they made the Doodle, working with Shona people to capture the instrument and culture accurately. 

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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.

A wooden mbira was first invented about 3,000 years ago, but mbiras with metal tines appeared in the Zambezi River valley roughly 1,300 years ago. The instrument became known outside of Africa around the 1950s

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