Mbira : The Fun and Interactive Game Inspired by Zimbabwe

On the 21st of May 2020 Zimbabwe celebrated the beginning of their culture week. Google Doodle honoured this day with an interactive game of Zimbabwe's 1000 year old musical instrument called the Mbira. The creation of the Google Doodle was a collaboration of different people in different fields, from writers to musicians, to visual artists and game developers.



Every game has a story and the Mbira Google Doodle is no exception.
This interactive experience follows the story of a little girl from the day she first fell in love with the Mbira to when she grows up and becomes a musician that plays the Mbira in a band. I loved watching how her mother was supportive throughout her creative journey.


The interactive experience challenged the player to play 4 traditional and modern songs in 4 levels. The songs are titled Nhemamusasa, Bangiza, Taireva and Chemutengure.

They played by simply hovering over a key on the Mbira at just the right time, following instructions that were laid out at the very beginning of the game. What I found special about this particular google doodle is that the Google team actually took a trip to Zimbabwe and worked closely with the Shona people so as to capture the authentic culture of the people in the game.




In this case, the levels and chapters of the interactive experience are synonymous. This is unlike in normal games where levels are strict and you have to finish one level to proceed to another; I realized that did not apply here. On the final page of the game, you can click on replay and choose a chapter you would like to play again or create your own mbira songs in free play. The game's 4 levels went as follows:


Level 1: It starts with the little girl walking with her Mum who is carrying a baby on her back. When the little girl hears an old Man play the Mbira, she stops right on her tracks forcing her mother to do the same. She then pushes the mother towards the old man's direction. The old Man notices her fascination with the instrument, stops playing and let's her touch it for her very first time. After that we continue listening to some beautiful Zimbabwean music as we are instructed on how to play the first song Nhemamusasa.


Level 2: Here we see a man making a tiny mbira. What's even more special about this particular moment is that the little girl has also participated in making it. We are shown the little girl picking bottle tops and handing them to the man for him to fix them on the Mbira. Once it is ready, he hands it over to the little girl and joy is written all over her face and we later see her hugging it dearly. After this emotional moment the player is taught how to play the song Bangiza.


Level 3: Takes us to the girl - now older - playing the Mbira with her peers who are dancing and playing other instruments. Her mother is still by her side as she is the one who brings her to this space. Before we proceed with the game play, we are taught about how the large calabash gourds used to make Mbiras help amplify the sound of the music. Playing the song Taivera is the next challenge in the game.


Level 4: The young girl is now an adult and plays in a band with a large crowd watching. We are taught that the Mbira can be featured with electric bands in Zimbabwe alongside drums and guitars. Things go full circle when she hands down the instrument to a young boy just the way it was handed down to her years ago. 

This highlights how the Shona people have managed to preserve the Mbira  for 1000 years through handing it down to the next generations. We then play the song Chemutengure and just like the journey of the young girl our journey as players also goes full circle.



It is a sweet story and an amazing interactive experience that introduces us to the special instrument of the Shona people. I'd like to urge you to try it out yourself here.The music from the mbira is soothing and with the current state of the World right now, the Mbira Google Doodle could not have come at a better time. 

Here are some wise words to follow as we stay safe and healthy during this pandemic. 
"Time is a healer, pain is a teacher, music is a stress reliever, be a believer" - Sauti Sol. And on that note I will leave you with these soothing sounds of the Mbira from Zimbabwe. Enjoy!





6 comments:

Joy Ruguru said...

Really enjoyed this article, from the animations to the videos. And of course, playing the game :)

Wendi Ndaki said...

Hey Joy, thank you :)The Mbira game is really captivating. Thank goodness for the Shona people's willingness to share their rich culture with us.

Bibs said...

Thank you Wedi for another captivating writing. I love the way you incorpporate both video and images to your articles. Your articles are really great, informative and enriching and help us learn about the different cultures in Africa as well as the whole world.

Wendi Ndaki said...

Hey Bibs, thank you for reading and for sharing what you feel about the piece. Your kind words bring a smile to my face :)

WangariKabiruM said...

Nhemamusasa means "to build a shelter".
A captivating piece @Wendi. Thank you for the great messaging of our thumb piano. God bless

Wendi Ndaki said...

Thanks for sharing that Wangari, I had no idea. May God build a shelter of healing and good health around the World.

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