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MOZAMBIQUE Eduardo Durao Timbila Ensemble: Timbila
The Classical Shop
release date: August 2008
Originally recorded in 2008
Total Time - 52:25
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Masso a Ticerto
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The Chopi people’s mbila, singular for timbila, is a unique instrument in the music of the Bantus of the Southern Africa continent. The xylophone and marimba are Western variants of this remarkable instrument, born much later than their timbila ancestor. The timbila uses heptatonian tuning, whereas most African xylophones have either hexatonian, pentatonian or even a smaller tuning scale. The timbila was mainly planned to be an orchestral instrument; it may, however, be used to play solos too.
In the beginning there were five different types of instruments: treble (Cilanzane or Malanzane), alto (Sange or Sanje), tenor (Dole or Mbingwe), bass (Debiinda), and contrabass (Gulu or Kulu). Every instrument has its own rôle in the orchestra, but nowadays tenor is no longer used. Treble is also rare. The orchestras I have seen have had alto, bass and contrabass instruments. The alto, Sanje, usually has between fourteen and eighteen notes, the most common being one with sixteen notes. Sanje is the solo instrument of an orchestra. The bass, Debiinda, usually has ten notes, and it is used as accompaniment. The contrabass, Kulu, has either three or four notes, and its rôle is to give a buzzing rhythmic support to the ensemble.
Timbila’s heptatonic scale means that an octave is divided into seven roughly equal intervals. In his studies in the 1940s, musicologist Hugh Tracey noticed that the Chopi tuning is almost identical with that of Njari, the thumb piano, of the Karanga tribe. The Chopis and the Karangas of Zimbabwe were separated by some five hundred years ago, but their heritage is genetically the same.
The most important part of the instrument, the slats that make the sounds, is made of wood from the Mwenje tree. These trees are becoming scarce because of over use and it is difficult to find them near the coastal region anymore. The wooden slats are later treated with fire to cure them. Another important part of the instrument is Matamba, which is the hollowed hard shell of a certain wild fruit. The resonators that are characteristic of this instrument are made by drilling a hole in the shell. The hole is then covered with a membrane. The resonators are attached to the body of the instrument using beeswax. The resonator is carefully tuned with the slat, and the membrane gives the timbila its typical buzzing sound. Thanks to the resonator, the sound of the instrument is strengthened and lengthened. The parts of the instrument are put together with leather bands and pieces of wood, without any metal parts or glue. It is a real masterpiece of ecological handicraft.
There is a theory supposing that these marimba-type instruments would have found their way to Africa along the trade routes from Indonesia, evolving into the Gamelan. The island of Madagascar off the coast of Mozambique also has its own marimba tradition.
Father Andre Fernandes, a Portuguese missionary, wrote the first known historical note about the timbila in Mozambique in 1560. Around 1530, the first of the many slave ships left Africa for South America and this might also explain why the marimba is now so commonly used there.
"The buzzing, quick-plucked thumb pianos used in traditional music from the Chopi people of Mozambique create a breakneck, caffeinated rush on the Eduardo Durao Timbila Ensemble’s "Timbila" (Naxos World). As Mr. Durao joins in four-part vocal harmonies, his band’s alto, bass and contrabass timbila (the plura of mbila, thumb piano) are plucked in patterns that sound like a merry-go-round about to spin off its axle. Modern Mozambique has been torn by civil war and ravaged by floods, but its rock is irrepressible."
Jon Pareles -
The New York Times - July 2002
"The extraordinary, 28-strong Venancio Mbande Orchestra is led by 70-year-old Vanancio Mbande who lives in a village in northern Mozambique. The musicians, many of them Mbande offspring, play timbila, an instrument like a xylophone, as a basis for a lively open-air recording. The leader founded his first timbila orchestra in 1956 to keep alive the ancient musical traditions of the Chopi tribe, and after retiring from working in gold mines, he set up a timbila school. Timbila comes in treble, alto, bass and contrabass forms. Mbande’s songs - about flirting, gossip, floods, amtition, thieves and land mines - involve the fascinating, clattering bell sounds of 11 timbila players, percussion and 13 singers skilled at harmony, although orchestral wallop makes the singing hard to distinguish."
Geoff Chapman -
Toronto Star - April 2002
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