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PHOENIX: January 17, 2012 Download this press release >

Sanza: African Thumb Pianos from the Collections of F. & F. Boulanger-Bouhiere and MIM

Exhibition Highlights One of Africa’s Most Vibrant Musical Instrument Traditions

PHOENIX (Jan. 17, 2012) On February 25, the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) welcomes its newest exhibition. “Sanza: African Thumb Pianos from the Collections of F. & F. Boulanger-Bouhière and MIM” features 200 thumb pianos on loan from a private Belgian collection, as well as those from MIM’s own collection, and will be on display in the Target Gallery through October 1, 2012.

“Sanza” is a common term used to refer to thumb pianos (also called lamellophones or lamellaphones), particularly those used by diverse cultural groups throughout central and eastern Africa. Other terms include “mbira” (used in Zimbabwe) and “chisanji,” “likembe,” and “kalimba,” which are generic names for the instrument. “Sanza,” the title used for this exhibition, serves as a unifying term to reflect the pervasiveness of the instrument throughout a large part of the African continent.

Thumb pianos range from those with vegetal “soundboards” and keys, or lamellae, to those with wooden soundboards and metal keys. Some have rectangular sound boxes that serve as resonators to amplify the instrument’s “plucked” metal-key sounds, while others employ large tortoiseshell resonators. Many sanzas feature finely carved wooden soundboards with intricate symbolic motifs, including elegant carvings meant to honor ancestors.

This exhibition presents a diverse range of thumb-piano styles brought to life through audio and video recordings that showcase the engaging qualities and contexts of sanza performances. Featured in the show are a number of large, visually dramatic sculptural sanzas. These include one Zimbabwean and two Congolese sanzas with enormous gourd resonators. Thumb pianos from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Botswana are also represented in the exhibition.

“The sanza is a phenomenon with a strong and rich history in Africa,” said MIM chief curator Manuel Jordán. “We are excited to bring this exhibition to MIM because it fits so well within our global setting and enables us to further celebrate our world’s diverse musical cultures and foster understanding of this unique tradition.”

For centuries, the sanza has been an instrument of choice for storytellers, historians, and ceremonial or ritual experts. Sanzas are used to accompany praise songs to honor important chiefs and ancestors. Modern exchanges between African and European, American, and other musicians have resulted in the incorporation of the sanza into world music and international genres.

Entrance to the “Sanza: African Thumb Pianos from the Collections of F. & F. Boulanger-Bouhière and MIM” exhibition is included in general museum admission.

The Musical Instrument Museum is located at 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard in Phoenix (corner of Tatum and Mayo Boulevards, just south of Loop 101). Please visit or call 480.478.6000 for more information.

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About MIM
MIM enriches the world community by collecting, preserving, and making accessible high-quality musical instruments, images, and music from every country in the world. We celebrate our world’s diverse musical cultures and foster global understanding by offering our guests an incomparable interactive experience, a welcome and fun environment, dynamic programming, and exceptional musical performances.

Media Contact
Erin Kozak, Media Relations Specialist