Zimbabwe’s Culture Week is now ongoing, which is why today’s Google Doodle celebrates the national instrument of the country: the mbira, The mbira has played an integral role in the traditions of Zimbabwe’s Shona people for more than a 1,000 years. A seemingly-straightforward device that consists of a flat board and several thin metal keys that nevertheless produces transcendent music. “I think anyone who has had more than five minutes with Zimbabwean mbira cannot forget the sound,” said Albert Chimedza, a musician, the founder of the Mbira Centre and a speaker in an explanation video filmed by Google to accompany the Doodle. “To me,” Chimedza continued, “it’s a cross between water and air.
To ensure today’s Doodle was as authentic as it could be, the Google Doodles team actually took a trip to Zimbabwe and worked closely with the Shona people to capture and share the heart of their culture.
The doodle is also accompanied by a game wherein the user can “play” the mbira using their laptop or handheld device. Over hundreds of years, the instrument has been a staple in Zimbabwean Shona ceremonies and a critical symbol of the improvisational magic that each individual musician can bring to their respective communities with their playing. “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,” Helene Leroux, the doodler who created the art for the mbira doodle and its respective playable programming, said to Google in a statement. “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.”
The Google Doodle game tells a cute story of a young girl watching an mbira being played with great interest, before growing up and inspiring the next generation of mbira players. The game itself involves tapping the right key when the note comes down the track, a concept that should be all too familiar for those who have played Guitar Hero.
Over the course of the game, you’ll get to learn and play along with both traditional and modern songs. Once you’ve finished the four levels, you’re offered the chance to free play with the mbira by tapping, clicking, or using your keyboard.
You can see more from the Doodle Team’s trip to Zimbabwe and learn more about the nation’s rich culture through a behind the scenes video.