The Art of Mbira

Musical Inheritance and Legacy

Paul F. Berliner



Growing out of the collaborative research of an American ethnomusicologist and Zimbabwean musician, Paul F. Berliner’s The Art of Mbira documents the repertory for a keyboard instrument known generally as mbira. At the heart of this work lies the analysis of the improvisatory processes that propel mbira music’s magnificent creativity. In this book, Berliner provides insight into the communities of study, performance, and worship that surround mbira. He chronicles how master player Cosmas Magaya and his associates have developed their repertory and practices over more than four decades, shaped by musical interaction, social and political dynamics in Zimbabwe, and the global economy of the music industry. At once a detailed exposition of the music’s forms and practices, it is also an indispensable historical and cultural guide to mbira in a changing world.


Stunning. I can think of no other work like it in the history of ethnomusicology, and very few that approach it in contemporary humanistic or musical scholarship. Its contribution transcends the author’s disciplinary affiliations in magisterial ways. There is, simply, nothing else like this in the literature. It owns its own category. - Aaron A. Fox


Paul Franklin Berliner is an American ethnomusicologist, best known for specializing in African music as well as jazz and other improvisational systems.