From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In African music, the mbira (also known as Likembe, Mbila, Thumb piano, Mbira Huru, Mbira Njari, Mbira Nyunga Nyunga, Karimbao or Kalimba) is a musical instrument that consists of a wooden board to which staggered metal keys have been attached. It is often fitted into a resonator. In Eastern and Southern Africa there are many kinds of mbira, usually accompanied by the hosho. Among the Shona people there are three that are very popular (see Shona music). The Mbira is usually classified as part of the lamellaphone family. It is also part of the idiophones family of musical instruments. In some places it is also known as a sanza or sansa.
In the late 1960s to early 70s sanza was the generic term used to describe these members of the lamellophone family. Mbira has now become so well known due to the worldwide stage performance and recordings of Thomas Mapfumo whose music is based on and includes the mbira, and the work of Dumisani Maraire who brought marimba and karimba music to the US Pacific Northwest, Ephat Mujuru who was one of the pioneer teachers of mbira in the US, and the writings and recordings of Zimbabwean musicians made by Paul Berliner. Mbira has now replaced sanza as the generic term. Dr. Joseph H. Howard, owner of the largest collection of drums and ancillary folk instruments in the Americas, often stated it is "the instrument most typical of Africa." By this he meant that the instruments were only found in areas populated by Africans or their descendants. Babatunde Olatunji made a similar statement in his book "Musical Instruments of Africa." He states the mbira "a finger xylophone, is native to Africa and is common throughout the continent. It is known nowhere else except in parts of the Americas where it was taken by Africans."