Of The Mbira Google Doodle

This week Zimbabwe is celebrating Culture Week…  21 May is World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development as proclaimed by UNESCO. In Zimbabwe this is traditionally a week of cultural and artistic expressions coordinated by the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe celebrating our cultural diversity.

The Google doodle for today(21 May) was celebrating World Day For Cultural Diversity by having an interactive mbira experience doodle.

mbira google doodle

**If you missed it click on the image to go to the Google doodle archive.

What is a Google doodle?

Ever noticed when you go on the Google page and it has some art going on and not the regular Google logo? Well, those are Google doodles

Doodles are fun, surprising and sometimes spontaneous changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, the lives of famous artists, pioneers, and scientists…

Clicking the doodle today(21 May) would take you to Zimbabwe, Africa; home of the mbira instrument.

africa zimbabwe

The doodle was a four part interactive session which told the story of a young girl fascinated by the mbira instrument, who learns how to play it, and then grows up to become a famous musician….

the story of the mbira google doodle

Interesting enough this feels like a familiar retelling of the lives of some our musicians who have lived to play the instrument on world stages, such as the late Chiwoniso Maraire who popularised Nhemamusasa the first track you hear when you click on the doodle, and Stella Chiweshe who performed Chemutengure

Traditionally, the mbira was played only by man

In the intermission between chapters of the animated doodle story, you learn to play mbira keys in a game reminiscent of guitar hero where you have to strike the right notes, and after the four acts you will have been introduced to the following mbira classics

google doodle mbira game





Interesting informative snippets about the mbira instrument will also pop up..

ancient instrument of shona

I was amazed at the attention to detail and was impressed to find that the doodlers (that’s what the team Google doodle illustration team are know as) had travelled to Zimbabwe to capture the essence of this ageless instrument

On Twitter Alex Magaisa started a hashtag to get people sharing stories using the hashstag #WeLoveMbiraZW

What Is The Mbira?

mbira instrument

The mbira is an musical instrument traditional of the Shona people of Zimbabwe consisting of a wooden board with metal keys and usually encased in a wooden shell or gourd (deze) and played by plucking at the keys

*Beads/shells/metal plates/bottle caps are attached to add texture and the signature buzzing sound which is almost hypnotic to both the listener and the musician.

In the old days playing this instrument was a prerequisite in summoning ancestral spirits and placing spirit mediums into the trance required for this to happen.

The instrument is said to have been played for over 1000 years and originally the keys were made from smelted iron ore rocks. The mbira transcends our current boarders and possibly belonged to a large chunk of Southern African kin, they used to be very nomadic

Sometimes its referred to as thumb piano but I was mighty pleased that this word was not used in the Google doodle. The mbira is often confused with a kalimba

Difference between Mbira and Kalimba


The Kalimba which was created by Hugh Tracey in the 1960s replicating the mbira he had seen in what is now Zimbabwe, at a cursory glance they may look the same:

  • The mbira has a double row of keys while the kalimba only has a single row
  • The kalimba’s keys consists of the conventional 7 note musical scale while the mbira ma have the similar notes they are not in the same order and some are absent
  • Where the mbira has buzzers the traditional kalimba has holes on its sound board

My mbira story

Once upon a time, during a school holiday I worked with a group of artists who crafted traditional musical instruments, particularly the marimba and the mbira. The group was called Masvingo Arts Club, operating from my mum’s garage, to make the instruments under contract for primary schools.

Sounds neat, but really, I mostly just sawed planks of timber into blocks, and wrote copy for the brochures, and business communications but I did learn to play a few notes of the mbira yevadzimu. This was about 20 years ago, so yeah I don’t have any pictures but we made quite a sight since all of us had crazy hair day going on.

We met up recently and joked about how with the audience I have on the internet we could restart and make a killing on the global market…(we had eventually stopped because bigger outfits muscled us out and regulations were changed requiring only formally registered enterprises to supply the instruments, you know how the world of getting government contracts goes *sigh*)

watching this Google doodle made me remember we really had a great idea we were just way ahead of our time



    1. I havent seen any stats to back it up but I think this might have been Google’s most interacted doodle… I am not sure if thats how they roll all the time but have you noticed they have it as the header and profile of their twitter account
      Plus the Doodle carried for two days most doodle last a day !!!!!
      For a little while I felt very proud


  1. That was a very nice and wonderful doodle, it felt like the spotlight was on Zim. I do remember the Masvingo Arts Council wasn’t the logo a man beating a drum with colours of the Zimbabwean flag coming out of the drum?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Whaaat? Very interesting ^_^
      after the initial surprise at your comment, I am now surprised my surprise, the instrument is over 1000 years old so just like we have similar words that diffused across the bantu languages is it not unfathomable that we share customs and even musical instruments or terrible governments.. ok scratch the last part hahaha
      Happy Africa Day Weekend


  2. Okay, I have to admit I didn’t know Google featured stuff like this and when I interacted with everything they shared and then thinking about this post and saying to myself, I actually know someone who lives in that teacup state! It’s so great how they put the spotlight on Zim. Your blog is WONDERFUL!! Keep up the great work! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much D!!!!!
      I am always happy to share a bit of my world with the rest of the world and its a bonus if one picks up new knowledge from it or stops for some food for thought


      Liked by 1 person

  3. True, the instrument was only allowed to be played by men but this transition to having the easiest to recall mbira artists as women like Stella Rambisai Chiweshe, Hope Masike , Chiwoniso Maraire etc is a great show that Shona culture evolved and did not stay stuck in the past.Im sure we can make room for growth for every other traditional practise in Zimbabwean culture involving gender roles be it in the work place,church,government,home …. Awesome piece B.Did you get to own a Mbira after having helped make a few?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to own several, but you know how a cobbler will end up not owning a decent pair of shoes because they wind up selling them… yeah I sold them


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