Title: demo: hosho. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The hosho is an internal-seed rattle idiophone common throughout Zimbabwe especially amongst the Shona and the Ndebele peoples. Hosho are present in nearly all forms of ensemble music in Zimbabwe from spirit possession ceremonies, called bira, to recreational dance drumming. In these ensembles the hosho playerprovides a distinctive foundational rhythm that is so central to Zimbabwean musical sensibilities that it has been incorporated in contemporary Zimbabwean popular music via replication on the hi-hat cymbal of the trap set performed by the drummer.


This pair of hosho is crafted the traditional way, from a hollowed-out and dried mapudzi (a kind of pumpkin) gourd. Gourds with an elongated bend at their vine-end are preferred because they provide a natural handle for the performer. Several dozen small seeds from the hota plant are placed inside each gourd through a hole in their wall, which is in turn partially closed with a web-like covering of brass wire. Small river pebbles or dried corn kernels have historically also been used for the internal pellets. In modern-day Zimbabwe hosho may also be made from tin cans attached to stick handles, or imported maracas of various sizes and designs may substitute for the tradition model.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

Hosho are usually played in pairs, one rattle in each hand. Some skilled musicians can make do with a single rattle. Sound is created by waving the gourds in such a way that the pellets slap as a cluster against the internal walls of the gourds; good control will result in a loud and precise articulation. The rhythms realized on the hosho seem simple in and of themselves, but the way in which they fit into the dense polyrhythmic and polymetric texture produced on the two or more mbira dzavadzimu they support at a bira is complex. Hosho players who are rhythmically accurate and have the necessary endurance to support and sustain the intense musical energy necessary for the success of a spirit-possession ceremony are much admired.


The ubiquity of hosho makes tracing a developmental path difficult. Little about the form or function of hosho has changed since the first written records. One suggestion for a proto-hosho is the dried, natural mapudzi gourd itself, which at some unknown time came to be processed by replacing its own seeds with those of another plant.

Bibliographic Citations

Berliner, Paul F. 1981. The Soul of Mbira—Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ellert. H. 1984. The Material Culture of Zimbabwe. Harare: Longman Zimbabwe.

Kubik, Gerhard, and Peter Cooke. "Lamellophone." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 19, 2013, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/40069.

Turino, Thomas. 2000. Nationalists, Cosmopolitans, and Popular Music in Zimbabwe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: East Africa

Nation: Zimbabwe

Formation: Shona

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

112.13 idiophone--vessel rattles: rattling objects enclosed in a vessel strike against each other or against the walls of the vessel, or usually against both

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: shaking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: hollow spheroid vessel - closed

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded discretely

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - indirect

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - pellet/s, seed/s, bead/s inside closed vessel/s

Energy input motion by performer: shaking

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


12 in. greatest length

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Toby Austin, Roger Vetter