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Title: Chaminuka: Music of Zimbabwe—Butsu Mutandari; Dumisani Maraire, karimba. Label: Music of the World. Format: CD. Catalogue#: CDC-208. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The karimba is a lamellaphone idiophone of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is of recent invention (1960s) and was intended for use as part of music education programs. Its design is based on lamellaphones used for traditional music making in parts of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Unlike other Zimbabwean lamellaphones, the karimba has no traditional context of use.


Each of the 15 spring-steel tongues/lamellae is wider and thinner at its sounding end than at its anchored one. They are held in place with a metal pressure bar that exerts a downward pressure on the keys against the thick top end of the board, serving as a backrest, and a metal bridge. This metal bridge rests vertically on the board, held in place by slots cut into the board’s sidewalls. The maker sets the downward pressure of the bar with wire, which is threaded alternately around the bar and through holes in the soundboard before being pulled taut. The playing end of each tongue is arched upward with the seven shorter ones being given a more acute bend than the eight longer ones, creating two ranks of lamellae. Several brass beads threaded together with wire and attached to the soundboard softly rattle in response to the tongues being plucked. While karimba often use a distinctive circular-shaped resonator constructed from several pieces of wood (see the second gallery photo), the first karimba shown on this page can be wedged into a more traditional hemispheric-shaped gourd resonator (called a ‘deze’) the opening of which is bordered with loosely attached bottle caps to add further buzz to the primary sound of the instrument.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The performer holds the back and sides of the soundboard with his hands, leaving his thumbs free to flex-and-release the tongues with a downward motion. The instrument is tuned to a non-standardized hexatonic (six-tone) scale over a range of two octaves from approximately F3 to F5. The pitch arrangement of the upper rank from left to right is approximately: E5 - D5 - C5 - F5 - C5 - D5 - E5; the lower rank, left to right:  A4 - G4 - F4 - A3 - F3 - C4 - D4 - E4. The repertoire of this instrument consists of cyclical, polyphonic and polyrhythmic phrases that accompany settings of traditional, often didactic, songs themselves organized in a call-response form.


The karimba was developed around 1960 by the Shona musician Jege A. Tapera, who based it on a thirteen-key instrument he encountered when visiting neighboring Mozambique. (Berliner, "The Soul of Mbira," 1993, p. 263) This development took place in the context of the Kwanangoma Teacher Training College in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. A graduate of that institution, Dumasani Maraire, went on to earn a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Washington. He is largely responsible for introducing the karimba to the West, and part of his legacy are recordings he made on the instrument.

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.

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.

Maraire, Dumasani Abraham, and Robert Garfias. 1971. The African Mbira--Music of the Shona People of Rhodesia. LP and notes. Nonesuch Explorer Series H-72043.

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)

122.11 idiophone--lamellaphone (or plucked idiophone; lamellae, i.e. elastic plaques, fixed at one end, are flexed and then released to return to their position of rest) in board- or comb-form; the lamellae are attached to a board or cut out from a board like the teeth of a comb; without integral resonator

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: plucking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: tongue - heteroglot

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: separate resonating space shared by multiple sonorous objects - temporarily affixed to instrument when played

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: flexing - direct

Sound exciting agent: fingertip/s, fingernail/s, finger-mounted pick/s

Energy input motion by performer: plucking

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: bottle caps loosely attached to sonorous surface


8.1 in. height of soundboard 6.3 in. width of soundboard

Primary Materials



Samuel Mujuru (first instrument)

Entry Author

Toby Austin, Roger Vetter