Matepe DzaMhondoro


The matepe is a an mbira-type instrument played in eastern Zimbabwe as well as Mozambique and Malawi, mainly by the Sena-Tonga people as well as some Korekore/Budya peoples. It’s one of the most challenging mbiras to play, because it uses both thumbs and both index fingers, and because of the very fast style popular in that region. A typical matepe has between 24 and 30 keys, spanning just over 3 octaves. Matepe music is generally similar to other mbira styles (although with many slight differences), and is normally accompanied by singing, hosho (shakers), and often drums and dancing. The full name matepe dza mhondoro translates to “the deep notes of the Lion Spirits,” which reflects both the sound of the instrument and its significance for traditional spiritual ceremonies.

One of the most unique features of the matepe is that its bass notes are tuned to produce overtones two octaves above their fundamental pitches. These overtones are in the same octave as the right hand’s high melody, and are loud enough to sound like actual notes played by the right hand, effectively doubling the number and speed of high notes played. This makes the matepe one of the fullest-sounding mbiras when played by itself, easily producing four to six distinct melodies at the same time. These overtones, combined with the overall lower tuning of the matepe, also give it a distinctive bell-like tone compared to other mbiras.


  1. I like this description. I like seeing my matepe on this page in the picture. I would like to use the text for this on my description of the matepe in my upcoming matepe DVD. A good trave for the use of my picture here? 😉

      • Thanks Joel! It’s good to hear from you, and I’m glad you like my matepe description. I’d be happy to make that trade. When is the DVD coming out? I think I want a copy 😉
        Actually, this blog is really just a prototype for a much bigger site I’m working on, which will have more of a ‘network’ feel and its own domain name. That’s why I didn’t bother getting permission sooner. I let you know when we’re ready to go live with that one. -JBB

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