zvembira, mbira centre

https://twitter.com/SaitCham/status/456738181128278017

 

How much is a good price to pay for mbira? Is £100 (or circa US $170) too much for the mbira on the tweet above?

Every week people send messages asking where they can buy some mbira. They are immediately directed to a number of places where they can reliably purchase an instrument and many have come back to say that they find the instruments expensive. It would be great to hear your views on how much you think is a good price for mbira. Probably some views on how you decide how much a mbira is worth.

 

Other mbiras one could buy

The tweet above is just an exmpale of a mbira one could buy but let’s just have a quick look at what else  is on offer on the mbira market…

 

The instrument below from Gonamombe Mbira Centre (popularly know as The Mbira Centre), will probably range from circa US$250. (The Gonamombe mbiras are made by different makers to a certain style and quality specification. The idea being that you should expect a particular quality of mbira from The Mbira Centre irrespective of the specific maker. As the director of the centre  once said to me, (I’ll para-phrase)  “When you buy a car from Toyota you never ask who made your car, you expect it to be of Toyota quality irrespective of the workers who built your car”. )

zvembira, mbira centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or one could buy a mbira (example below) from Mbira.org at an average price of US$250. (Mbira.org sells instruments from a variety of makers.  So you can choose a particular maker if you wish. As these are independent individual makers, the feel, quality and style can differ considerably)

 

zvembira, mbira, mbira to buy

 

It also possible to buy  an instrument such at the ones below from German maker Sebastian Pott ranging from around €300 (or circa US$400) (Sebastian’s workmanship produces beautiful looking and great sounding instruments. He is the maker of choice for renowned mbira player Chartwell Dutiro. I have asked Sebastian why he charges the amount he charges for his instruments and he explained that the time it takes him to get the instrument to its quality finish and sourcing the best materials means that he can’t afford to sell them for less. )

 

zvembira, mbira

 

 

Recently someone got in touch from south Africa and I directed them to a South African based player I know and they came back saying that the instruments were too expensive. They had been told that the instruments will be around ZAR 1000 (or circa US$95). There is also a lot of stuff on Amazon and Ebay of different qualities and at different prices. some of the stuff on line is pure rubbish, not menat for playing but just display but some people who would like to save some pennies end up buying that stuff under the belief its a better price.

I have happily paid for instruments that vary in prices from $100 right up to €300! I’ve based my judgement on how much I pay on mainly the following

  • sound quality
  • workmanship
  • materials
  • the finish

What is a good price to pay for mbira?  Let us know in the comments box below or by email. Cheers

5 Replies to “What’s a good mbira price ?”

  1. If you are based in Zimbabwe I dont think you should fork out more than $100 for a mbira. An important market that needs to be mentioned is Mbare where the prices range from $15 to $100 and the quality is commendable especially for people wanting to learn. I prefer that everyone who wants to learn playing mbira not be dettered by prices. You can also have one tailor made for you if you go to Makonde or Zvimba rural areas where there are experts who make the mbiras and sometimes actually supply those urban markets. I bought the mbira i have for $35 at Mbare musika and very soon I will be buying one with those bolts for tuning at $80.00 at the same market.

    1. I think you raise an important issue on affordability for a beginner. Having an instrument to practice on is quite essential for anyone who wants to play mbira and some people, particularly outside Zimbabwe, struggle with the prices.

      I’ve met many people, particularly students, who are so keen to learn but also broke as hell that they can’t afford something decent to start on. I’ve said decent because, as I pointed out in the article, there is stuff that can be bought off Ebay and Amazon which sometimes is so bad it puts off the person from ever playing again because their view of the instrument gets damaged! (Of course there is some decent stuff on Amazon and Ebay if you know what you are looking for!). I’ve had to jump into the deep end of trust by lending some of my instruments to people you could consider total strangers so that they can have a good start to learning.

      Wouldn’t it be great if people could access different grades of mbira such as ‘an entry level mbira’ which is more affordable, not of the highest quality but decent all the same?

      When I was in Zimbabwe I played on some of the best mbiras which didn’t cost a fortune. They might have looked rough but the sound was mind blowing. The trouble for most people outside Zimbabwe is that they rely on buying online and they are never able to truly give the instruments a test run. For those in London I am in the process of planning and organising a mbira-expo where people can get an opportunity to actually try some instruments from different makers rather than just buying blindly online.

  2. Americans, in particular, have a habit of looking for the “best deal.” When I was taking lessons with the Chigambas I found they use an mbira with a particular chuning. I already had an mbira, but it was necessary to purchase another one with the same chuning they use. Yes, it cost nearly $200 US, but it was worth it? Did I have the money? No. Did I pay in installments? Yes. Do I still have that mbira today? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Most definitely. That mbira was made by Sekuru Chigamba himself and cannot be found for sale on eBay, except on rare occasions. Always, always, always remember, you get what you pay for. Look for the quality mbira you need. When I say quality, I’m not talking about looks, either. I’m talking about sound quality.

  3. To people who want to buy indigenous musical instruments as decor for their home and can’t understand the reason for the “unaffordable” prices, I say — Is that because you should not have to pay for an authentic musical instrument when you only want an unplayable replica? Well, you could just make it yourself.

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