Google Doodle celebrates mbira, Zimbabwe’s national instrument


May 21 marks the start of Culture Week in Zimbabwe, and Google joins the celebration with a game as a doodle on the home page that lets you play Zimbabwe’s national instrument, the mbira.

The mbira is an African musical instrument, traditional to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It consists of a wooden board (often equipped with a resonator) with offset metal teeth attached, played by holding the instrument in the hands and pinching the teeth with the thumbs (at least), the right index finger (most mbira), and sometimes the left index finger.

Music played on the mbira often consists of two or more nested and repetitive parts separated by a multifaceted polyrhythmic nature. The songs lend themselves to improvisation, so no two performances are the same.

Today’s Google Doodle game tells the cute story of a young girl who watches with great interest an old lady playing mbira, before growing up and inspiring the next generation of mbira players. The game itself involves hitting the right key when the note hits the track, a concept that should be familiar enough for those who have played Guitar Hero.

Throughout the game, you will learn and play with traditional and modern songs. Once you’ve finished all four levels, you can freely play with the mbira by typing, clicking or using your keyboard.

To play !

To ensure that today’s doodle is as authentic as possible, the Google Doodles team traveled to Zimbabwe and worked closely with the Shona people to capture and share the heart of their culture. Here’s what it says:

One of the obstacles was undoubtedly the narrative structure of the project: we wanted to make sure that we reflected the culture of Zimbabwe and the mbira as precisely and respectfully as possible, but without reclaiming its history. There are so many rich aspects of this culture that it was difficult to choose what to show. For example, we visited a school in Zimbabwe where students learned mbira and put on a wonderful performance. We also saw how shona sculpture is also a very important aspect of the culture there. And we have met so many wonderful people. I wish we could share everything! But I hope the Doodle will open people’s curiosity to find out more about the instrument and this wonderful part of the world.

You can learn more about the Doodle team’s trip to Zimbabwe and learn about the country’s rich culture with a behind the scenes video.

It’s worth noting that Google’s employees have been working from home for the past few months, which means that even the Google Doodles team had to learn to adapt. To this end, one of the developers of the current Doodle shared a picture of his home workstation, including an mbira on their desktop for reference.