25/06/2018: “Mbira” by Kevin Volans Ensemble


Kevin Volans is an Irish composer with South African roots. Much of his music provides a synthesis of Western musical culture with traditional African instrumentation and rhythms.

The mbira is a type of thumb piano, which among other places is common in Zimbabwe. This is where Volans gained inspiration for Zimbabwe: Mbira, an album showcasing a blend of new and traditional rhythms played by an mbira ensemble.

“Mbira” is the last track on the album, and spans more than 10 minutes. It’s actually one of the only tracks on the album dominated by a retuned harpsichord rather than mbiras themselves. The mbira is more of a windchime sound, which is used to great effect on the rest of the album.

The song starts tentatively, before falling into an easy groove that locks the rest of the track in place. The instruments become more chaotic, but at the same time, nothing sounds out of place. A symphony of twanging…

By the latter part of the tune the rhythms cascade around each other like a flock of starlings, until the winding down at the end.

It’s a wonderful piece of music, and really quite entrancing once you get into it!

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