Celebrating Mbira

Celebrating Mbira

Celebrating Mbira – Go behind-the-scenes of today’s Doodle below!

Today’s interactive Doodle celebrates Zimbabwe’s national instrument, the mbira, as Zimbabwe’s Culture Week begins. Try your own hand at this instrument that has been played for over 1,000 years, while experiencing a story as told through the lens of a Zimbabwean girl who learns to play the mbira.

Originating in Southern Africa, the mbira has long played an integral role in the traditions and cultural identity of Zimbabwe’s Shona people. It consists of a handheld hardwood soundboard (gwariva) affixed with a series of thin metal keys, which are plucked by the thumbs and forefinger. A large hollow gourd (deze) provides amplification, and materials such as bottle caps or beads can be affixed to the soundboard to create the instrument’s signature buzzing sound.

The music played on the instrument, which is also called mbira, often consists of two or more interlocking and cyclical parts marked by polyrhythmic complexity. Songs lend themselves to improvisation, so no two performances are exactly alike. 

The instrument features prominently in a variety of Shona ceremonies, and it remains a vital link to the past through songs that have been passed down over hundreds of years. While the mbira was traditionally played by men, Zimbabwean women have increasingly taken up the instrument in recent years and continue to push its timeless sound in new and contemporary directions.   




Click here to listen to more mbira, recorded in the process of creating this Doodle.



Doodle Team Q&A

Today’s Doodle engineering was led by South African Doodler Jonathan Shneier, with art by Doodler Helene Leroux, game design by Lisa Takehana, and produced by Colin Duffy.

Below, they shares some thoughts on the making of the Doodle:

Q: What did you enjoy the most about working on this Doodle?

Colin: Without a doubt the most enjoyable thing about working on this Doodle was being able to experience and learn about Mbira from the Shona people in Zimbabwe. Prior to this project I could not tell you much about Mbira but the kindness, depth of history and open mindedness that the people of Zimbabwe showed our group was life-changing.

Q: What was your approach for this Doodle?

Lisa: Because we’re celebrating a musical instrument, we knew we wanted our audience to experience the beauty of the mbira by playing a digital version and listening to a variety of songs that spanned traditional to contemporary. But what makes the mbira truly magical is that they come with thousands of years worth of history and culture, and it was essential to us to represent it beyond just their technical components.

Throughout the development process, we worked closely with the friends we made from our Zimbabwe trip, mbira experts, and Shona consultants to write the narrative that aligned with their values, and made sure we represented the mbira and culture with as much integrity as possible.  

Q: What was a hurdle you ran into, and how did you resolve it?

Helene: One of the hurdles was definitely the narrative structure of the project: we wanted to make sure to reflect the culture of Zimbabwe and the Mbira as accurately and respectfully as possible but without reappropriating the history of it. There are so many rich aspects of that culture that it was difficult to choose what to show. For instance, we visited a school in Zimbabwe where students had learnt Mbira and where they performed a wonderful show. We also saw how Shona sculpture is also a very big aspect of the culture there. And we met so many wonderful people. I wish we could have shared it all!! But hopefully, the Doodle will open people’s curiosity to discover more about the instrument and that wonderful part of the world.


 Q: What do you hope people will take away from this Doodle?

Jonathan: What stands out to me is the sense of community, belonging, and pride associated with the mbira, and the variety of ways it weaves itself into people’s lives, from the traditional to the modern. We’ve tried to give people around the world a taste of a broad and deep cultural tradition that isn’t very well known outside its homeland, and to give the people of Zimbabwe a chance to stand up and be seen, to be proud of what is uniquely theirs. I hope we’ve given people just enough to pique their curiosity and encourage them to go out and learn more; maybe even pick up an instrument and give it a try!



Behind-the-scenes photos of the making of the Doodle

The Doodle team doing research in Zimbabwe 


Engineering the Doodle at home in quarantine


More concepts and sketches of the Doodle






Project Concept Lead | Jonathan Shneier

Lead Artist | Helene Leroux

Lead Engineer | Jonathan Shneier

Producer | Colin Duffy

Game Designer | Lisa Takehana

UX Designer | Diana Tran

Artists | Olivia Huynh, Sophie Diao, Lisa Takehana

Engineers | Jacob Howcroft, Collin Irwin

Mixing, Sound Design, Editing | Nathan Miller, Nick Zammuto

Mbira and Vocal Arrangements and Additional Production | Nora Balaban

Musicians | Nora Balaban, Tendai Muparutsa, Banning Eyre, Benjamin Teters, Shirley Chikukwa, Rima Fand

Marketing | Perla Campos, Grace Chen, Taslim Okunola, Mary Sadiq

Business Affairs Lead & Partnerships | Madeline Belliveau

Doodle Team Lead | Jessica Yu, Brian Kaas

Special Thanks | Alyssa Winans




Albert Chimedza

Amy and Tafadzwa Matamba

Erica Azim

Leonard Hondoma

Mhofu, Mbira maker of Victoria Falls

Oscar Takabvirwa

Sahwira and his family

Sean Vesce & the Very Very Spaceship team

Takunda Jora

Tichaona Mudakureva

Tom Beuchel of Flux Studios NYC

Tute Chigamba, Irene Chigamba, Wiriranai Chigonga, Cosmas Magaya, Musekiwa Chingodza, 

Chartwell Dutiro, Caution Shonhai, Edgar Bera, Fradreck Mujuru, William Chitauro 

Zaza Kabayadondo



In loving memory of Mhofu, in grateful appreciation for his partnership and hospitality.

You can find more about Celebrating Mbira on the official Google Doodle Page


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