Kariga Mombe Basic

Here is a transcription of Kariga Mombe in tablature notation. Kariga Mombe means “taking the bull by the horns.” It is a song about determination. This is a the basic version that most beginners play. In my book, Learning Mbira: A Beginning…, this is the same as the standard kushaura without the right index finger.  I’ve found that beginning students get a much better introduction to mbira with this most basic version because it uses only the two thumbs in a limited range. Try it!

The notation is described in my article, “Getting Started with Mbira Dzavadzimu.” You can find it here:




 Kariga Mombe basic

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Chartwell Dutiro’s Shumba ya Ngwasha

This is a transcription in tablature notation of Chartwell Dutiro’s version of “Shumba ya Ngwasha” (Ngwasha’s version of Shumba), played in nemakonde tuning. Nemakonde is a very low tuning (low E) in phrygian mode. A higher-pitched version of this tuning is called “gandanga.” Chartwell’s performance is elegant in its simplicity. There are no variations, and yet the performance is full. His singing is beautiful and his timing is impeccably balanced.

If you are unfamiliar with the notation, consult my article, “Getting Started with Mbira Dzavadzimu” here:


Most nemakonde/gandanga mbiras have an extra key on the lower left manual (8 keys rather than the usual 7).  If yours doesn’t have that extra key (the 2nd scale degree – not found on standard instruments in nyamaropa or dambatsoko tuning, for example), use the notes in parentheses on the transcription.

Below is a link to a video of Chartwell performing Shumba ya Ngwasha.

Chartwell Dutiro playing Shumba ya Ngwasha



Kalimba Magic Interview

December 9, 2008

Volume 3, Number 11

Kalimba Magic NEWS

• Interview with Scholar and Mbira/Karimba Artist B. Michael Williams

B. Michael Williams is a lover of mbira, karimba, and traditional African musics.

KM: Here is your introduction to percussionist and scholar B. Michael Williams, in his own words:

BMW: I’ve taught percussion at Winthrop University for 22 years. I came to “world music” through John Cage, who was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. Cage used percussion instruments from around the world in his early works for percussion. It was those pieces written from 1935 to 1943 that piqued my curiosity about percussion instruments from various world cultures, particularly from Africa.

I was in a group touring and performing Cage’s music when one of my colleagues showed me an mbira dzavadzimu made by Andy Cox. Andy was an art professor who had made an instrument from descriptions and photos in Paul Berliner’s book, “The Soul of Mbira.” I had taken Berliner’s course in jazz history while working on my masters degree at Northwestern University in the late 1970s and immediately recognized the instrument. I hounded Andy to make one for me, but time and again he refused. I think he wanted to test my sincerity. In the meantime, a local music teacher had given me a Nigerian lamellaphone with keys made of rattan. It had two ranks of keys set side by side. I was determined to figure out a way to alter the configuation so I could learn to play some of the karimba tunes in the back of Paul’s book. Looking back, it reminds me of the scene in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” where Richard Dreyfus’ character is carving the mountain out of his mashed potatoes. I took some toothpicks and used them as a secondary bridge so it raised a second manual of keys. I learned to play “Butsu Mutandari” on that instrument! When I played it for Andy, he agreed to make me a karimba.


Welcome to the B. Michael Williams blog


Welcome to my news page and blog.  Over the years I’ve had experiences or insights that I thought were worth sharing with a wider audience, but may not have been so significant or thoroughly researched as to warrant a published article. Perhaps this blog will be the perfect venue for little tidbits I’ve discovered about this and that.

I guess I’m a bit of an anomaly in the percussion world, but maybe not. After all, percussionists are by nature “jacks of all trades.” I began my career as an orchestral percussionist and high school band director, then did some research and writing on John Cage, wrote some pieces for frame drums, studied West African drumming, and later learned to play a lamellaphone from Zimbabwe. Some years ago I remember asking a colleague what he’d thought of an article I’d recently published about Stockhausen’s percussion solo No. 9 Zyklus. His response was, “You wrote that? I thought it was another Michael Williams.”

The fact is, diversity is what we percussionists do best. My teacher at Northwestern University, Terry Applebaum, always said, “Our virtuosity is our versatility.” I took that wisdom to heart and it is a major platform in my teaching philosophy. Anyway, I hope to engage you on these pages with some observations, experiences, and my own questions about a variety of topics; frame drums, djembe, contemporary percussion, percussion education, mbira, and my own musings about everything from Almglocken to Zen.

Thanks for visiting… and come back any time!