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Thumb Piano

African Art

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Thumb Piano

Artwork Details


Chokwe Artist, Angola


late nineteenth–early twentieth century


Wood and metal

Accession #



5 1/4 x 2 1/2 x 1 1/4 inches


On View - Stent Family Wing, Skyway, Gallery 401


In Chokwe communities of the southern savannah region of central Africa, oral historians make political commentary while singing the praises of accomplished individuals. The music of thumb pianos and stringed instruments often accompanies their voices. This thumb piano, decorated with a miniature, mask-like face, is unusually small and easily portable. The thumb piano—also called a mbira, sanza, likembe, or kalimba—is played throughout much of Africa and the African diaspora. Thumb piano music has gained international fame, popularized by musicians including Stella Rambisai Chiweshe, a Shona artist from Zimbabwe.


Fred and Rita Richman Collection