The Sanza

The sanza (also known as mbira, likembe, kalimba, gongoba, or thumb piano) is an ancient instrument from African village culture. Various kinds of sanzas have existed throughout Africa for thousands of years. The keys were originally made of bamboo, but, over the years, metal keys have been developed. Mbiras were probably the first sanzas ever, from the Shona people in Zimbabwe. The instrument then spread all over Africa, and many tribes began to build their own personalized instruments. Thus innovations began. There are many different tunings, note layouts, and instrument designs. The sanza is usually played in group settings with two to four players playing interlocking patterns.

The sanza is made using a small wooden box or board as the resonator with a row of metal strips of different lengths. The metal strips or tines (lamellae) are played by plucking. The sanza/mbira is often placed inside a large calabash resonator to amplify it.

Traditionally, the sanza is played to attract the ancestors. Many sanzas feature elegant cravings and symbolic motifs meant to honor the ancestors. Through the instrument, the traditional values of the ancestors can be honoured and kept alive.

Saïdou Abatcha, storyteller and humourist of Cameroonian origin, offers us a beautiful image of the sanza and its power- "It is said in the Bantu mythology that God created the minerals, plants, and animals while playing of the sanza and that after that, all living beings coexisted in perfect harmony. Then, one beautiful day when he was playing, his instrument was unfortunately out of tune, and produced a false note which gave birth to the first human. The human multiplied and began to perpetuate the disharmony that was in his origins. Perhaps, it appears, we have to put the harmony back in this tormented world and the sanza may help us!"