The Afro Harp was a Hugh Tracey Competitor, circa 1970
Get out your tissues for Jonatha Brooke's song

the notes
The Afro Harp

I know precious little about the Afro Harp. I've never actually held one in my hands. An Afro Harp has a wood resonant chamber, a resonant structure on the bridge, 13 tines, six of them bent upward as in the karimba, and the back side of the tines extend way beyond the bridge and are curled around. Once you hear it played in this video, I'm sure you will like it, and if you're lucky enough to have one cross your path, grab it!

I've been told that the Afro Harp was on the scene circa 1970 and that its design was inspired by the Hugh Tracey kalimba, but Afro Harps have not been manufactured for decades. Someone recently asked me how they are tuned, and I cannot say exactly, except that they are in the key of C and their low note is the guitar's low C, a 5th below the Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba's lowest note, G. As such, they should be a great accompaniment for singing, as they will be low enough to support a female voice - as is demonstrated by Jonatha Brooke.

And now, I would like to share with you the song that has been stuck in my head all morning long. I have cried four or five times today as I play this song over and over - some tears when I play it in my head, and right out bawling when I play the video. Jonatha Brooke is a masterful song writer and she hits a grand slam home run with this song about her mother passing. She backs herself up with the unassuming Afro Harp.

Jonatha Brooke plays the most emotional kalimba music I have ever heard.

Part of what makes this song so meaningful to me is the ancestral overtones of all kalimbas. The mbira dzavadzimu, a traditional African cousin to the kalimba, is understood to be a doorway to let the ancestral spirits into this world, pulling them back in so we can interact with them directly. In my own work, I have played kalimba at the bedside of a dozen dying people, including my own mother in 1991. Part of the emotion I feel coming through Jonatha's work is surely related to my own history. But there is something transcendent about her performance, her voice, her writing, and her kalimba playing.

If you get a chance to hear Jonatha Brooke live - she does tour the US - I encourage you to do so. Kalimba is a sideline for her; she mostly plays guitar, but does she sing! And if you get a chance to play kalimba for someone on their death bed, do it: you will offer music to let the spirit sing.