African Music: Revisit Zimbabwe

As we continue our journey back through some African countries we are stopping in Zimbabwe and the instrument called the marimba. The marimba is a percussion instrument much like a xylophone, it has keys that are hit with mallets. Some of the special features of the marimba are the wooden keys and the resonators that are below the keys. The sound is rich and like a piano you can play high and low tones on the marimba.

Many years ago before my husband and I were married he had the opportunity to buy a used marimba and couldn’t pass it up. So we have a marimba in our garage, a tad random but very helpful when teaching our son about African music!

I showed him the wooden keys, the resonator pipes and lastly I handed him some mallets. He played for a long time, and returned to it later the same day, then again the next, and again- needless to say, Martin now loves the marimba and I don’t blame him! It is one of my favorite instruments, then again I love anything my husband plays.

Here is a little history of the marimba for you from

According to oral history, the story of the marimba began a long, long time ago in Africa, where holes were dug in the ground, wooden bars were made to cross over this hole, and the bars were struck to produce sound. That is, a sort of xylophone arose that worked by having the sound produced by wooden bars resonate within holes. Subsequently, gourds were attached to the undersides of the wooden bars. Now it was the gourds that served as resonating chambers for the sound. Instruments like this are still familiar as traditional folk instruments. Interestingly, the Zulu tribe of South Africa is said to have legends of a goddess named Marimba who created a xylophone with gourds attached.

The instrument that was the ancestor of the marimba crossed the sea with African people and arrived in Central and South America. The gourds were swapped with resonator pipes made of wood. Eventually, still in the Americas, the resonator pipes that were attached started to be made of metal, resulting in the modern marimba.

In 2018 Zimbabwe broke the world record for the marimba:

The marimba is a fantastic ensemble instrument:

It is also a very impressive solo instrument, especially when they hold two mallets in each hand!

Finally, it is accessible to young musicians and simply fun to watch and play.

For more African music check out the djembe when we revisited Côte d’Ivoire!

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