Zimbabwe’s Culture Week is now ongoing, which is why today’s Google Doodle celebrates the national instrument of the country: the mbira, 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.”
Today’s 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.”
In the midst of a global pandemic, it can be difficult to experience true peace and uncomplicated restfulness even in the safety of one’s own home, but there’s something about the sound of the mbira that cuts through ambient anxiety and produces a sensation that’s close to tranquility. For this reason, this Google doodle is especially well-timed.