Also:       chitambe      chizambe      chimazambi      

Title: Other Musics from Zimbabwe--Handina mwana; Pineas Hungwe, chizambi and voice (field recording by Hugh Tracey--see Andrew Tracey entry in Bibliography). Label: SWP Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: SWP 012. Track: 7.

Contextual Associations

The chizambi is stick-zither chordophone found amongst the Karanga and Ndau (both Shona peoples) in the Save River region of Zimbabwe. It is often played by shepherds for personal entertainment. The instrument is also associated with traditional healers (n’angas) in some areas. 


The string carrier is a flexed stick with a serrated surface along part of its length. The ends of the stick are connected with a length of plastic strapping material (fronds from the murara palm is the more traditional material used for the string), which is kept in tension by the bent stick. A stick rattle is used to indirectly excite the string into vibration. It is made by threading a stick through holes in dried mutamba fruit shells (three of them on this instrument) that contain small seeds. The end of this beater that is rubbed against the bow has lines carved into it to roughen its surface.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A picture of the chizambi being played is found in Tracey (n.d.) and will be described here. The bow is held horizontally with the right end (from the player’s perspective) of the raffia string passing between the player’s lips and the left end of the bow resting in his left palm; the serrated side of the bow faces away from the performer. The player holds the stick rattle with his right hand, with the roughened end pointing upwards. By sliding the rough end of the rattle back and forth along the serrated side of the bow, the bow effectively becomes a rasp and the string vibrates in response to the energy produced by the bow. The player manipulates the raffia string in two ways: first, he can lightly touch the left end of the string with available fingers of his left hand to alter its vibrating length; and secondly he can manipulate his mouth cavity to selectively amplify harmonics of the vibrating string. In the provided audio example the player alternates between singing and bow playing, and is accompanied by a couple of men who supply a short vocal ostinato to the bow player’s instrumental and vocal parts. The rattle provides a rhythmic foundation to the whole.


Mouth-resonated musical bows are widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa and are believed to have been in use for a very long time. That said, little is known in precise historical terms about the origin and development of the chizambi.

Bibliographic Citations

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

Huwiler, Kurt. 1995. Musical Instruments of Africa. Harare: Mambo Press.

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

Tracey, Andrew. 2000. Other Musics from Zimbabwe. CD and liner notes. SWP Records SWP 012.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: East Africa

Nation: Zimbabwe

Formation: Ndau

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

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

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: zither - bow

Resonator design, chordophone: mouth on string

String courses: single

Vibrational length: string carrier to string carrier

String tension control: stretch and knot

Method of sounding: sympathetically (through string carrier)

Pitches per string course: multiple (by direct free stopping)


27 in. length of bow from tip to tip 13.5 in. length of stick rattle

Primary Materials

string - synthetic
shell - fruit

Entry Author

Toby Austin, Roger Vetter