Title: Music of Zimbabwe “Earth and Spirit”—Ndobaiwa; Frank Gomba, chipendani (field recording by Dr. Thomas Turino--see Bibliography). Label: Record and Tape Productions. Format: CS. Catalogue#: L4 VA 100. Track: A-3.

Title: Chipendani Music from Zimbabwe--Ndezvemeso; Compound Muradzikwa, chipendani (field recordings and liner notes by Dr. Jennifer W. Kyker [Eastman School of Music]--see Bibliography). Label: Hungwe Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 884502106251. Track: 6.

Contextual Associations

The chipendani is a plucked stick-zither chordophone of the Shona and Ndebele peoples of Zimbabwe. It is a self-entertainment instrument once played by young boys herding cattle or as accompaniment for long foot journeys and as a courtship instrument, but is heard less and less today. Modern western popular music has caused a decline in the use and manufacture of the chipendani. It is now rarely found even in rural areas.


The chipendani string carrier is a bow made from a single length of wood. At the center of the bow is a handle the diameter of which is close to the original stock of wood. From the handle to each end of the bow the stock is reduced by shaving to thin flat blades. A metal wire is held in tension by tying it to the terminus of each end of the flexed bow. One end of a short length of cotton cord is then tied to the wire at a point that divides the wire into two unequal segments, while the string’s other end is tied around the bow blade at one end of its handle. This chord functions as a sliding nut, tied with enough tension to divide the playing string acoustically into two segments of differing lengths. 

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds the chipendani in one hand by its handle with its arched ends facing away from him. He places the back of the bow blade that has the dividing string tied to it in front of his opened mouth; the light area just to the left of the handle seen in the image on this page is where the bow comes in contact with the player’s lips. With the thumb and index finger of his free hand, the player plucks the shorter segment of the wire string; with the index finger of the hand holding the bow’s handle he plucks the other, longer string segment. The shorter segment produces a pitch approximately the interval of a fourth above that of the longer string. The bow serves to transmit the vibrating energy of the string segments to the mouth cavity of the player, which serves as a resonator to amplify the sound. By manipulating the shape of his mouth cavity, the player can also bring out specific harmonics of the pitches being produced on the string.


Little is known about the development of the chipendani because its use has been in decline since colonial contact. However, mouth-resonated musical bows are widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa and are believed to have been in use for a very long time.

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.

Jones, Claire 1992. Making Musical Musical Instruments of Zimbabwe Past and Present. Harare: Academic Books Zimbabwe.

Kaemmer, John E.  1998. “Music of the Shona of Zimbabwe.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.1. ed. Ruth M. Stone. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 744-758.

Kyker, Jennifer W. 2007. Chipendani Music from Zimbabwe by Compound Muradzikwa. CD with liner notes. Hungwe Records 884502106251:

Sayce, Katherine, ed. 1987. s.v. "Music, Traditional." Encyclopedia Zimbabwe. Harare: Quest Publishing.

Turino, Thomas. 1993. Earth and Spirit--Music of Zimbabwe. Cassette with liner notes. Record and Tape Promotions L4 VA 100.

________. 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)

311.121.12 chordophone--mono-heterochord musical bow (the bow has one heterochord string only): without resonator, with tuning noose

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: zither - bow

Resonator design, chordophone: mouth on carrier

String courses: single

Vibrational length: string carrier to string carrier

String tension control: stretch and knot

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: two (with sliding nut)


29.5 in. length of string 33 in. length of bow

Primary Materials

string - wire
string - cotton

Entry Author

Toby Austin, Roger Vetter