Kalimba CU

Kalimba Magic NEWS
Volume 3, Number 2

March 2, 2008

In This Issue:

ALERT: Have you purchased a kalimba in the last 3 months?
What's New at Kalimba Magic?
Interview with the Kalimba Team at African Musical Instruments (AMI)
New Information on the Sansula
African CD: Dobet Gnahore
Kalimba Community

Kalimba Alert!

Be on the lookout for broken screws.

diagram of kalimba

This past Christmas season, I noticed a few Hugh Tracey kalimbas with broken screw heads. Five screws fasten the z-bracket to the kalimba wood, and these are crucial to the proper functioning of the kalimba. I took these defective kalimbas out of circulation, to be returned to African Musical Instruments (AMI), the maker of the Hugh Tracey kalimbas. After contacting AMI about this new phenomenon, they performed an investigation and determined that the screws were of different quality than earlier batches - the grooves of the Phillips-head pattern are cut too deep into the screw head and there is little metal left to hold the screw head to the rest of the screw. BUT, the screw heads do not break until after they are under stress, i.e., after the tines are put into the z-bracket and the backstop and bridge are put into place forcing the tines up while the z-bracket forces the tines down. Further investigation determined that the screw manufacturer had changed.

So, if you have purchased a Hugh Tracey kalimba from Kalimba Magic between November 2007 and March 1, 2008, please be on the lookout for these broken screw heads. Sometimes the heads come right out, other times they are trapped under the tines between the z-bracket and the backstop, but they will cause a nasty buzzing across all notes (as opposed to the regular buzzy tine thing which will only affect a single tine).

Both AMI and Kalimba Magic stand behind our products. AMI is taking the steps to correct this problem. However, it is unknown how far into the future these problems may continue to appear in kalimbas built with these bad screws. If you have a kalimba which has a broken screw, Kalimba Magic will replace it for free. I will only ask you to pay for shipping to Kalimba Magic. We will cover the cost of shipping the replacement kalimba back to you.

What's New at Kalimba Magic?


SALE! 15% off on any Kalimba Magic merchandise. Once again, in order to raise the money required to pay for my next shipment of Hugh Tracey kalimbas from South Africa (which will include the Altos with pickups, as well as unpainted Trebles that can be tuned and painted any way you want), I am offering a 15% off sale NOW through March 6. When you check out at the Kalimba Magic e-store, please enter the code ThankYou - all one word, with T and Y capitalized. That thank you is for YOU - the world of kalimba enthusiasts - for Kalimba Magic exists by the grace of the enthusiasm you generate. And if the computers involved somehow don't give you the discount correctly, just contact me and I'll make sure the proper discount is refunded to you.

And if you are waiting for the Altos with pickups, they will be here in just a matter of days. They left Africa last week.

Treble Hymnal

Sharon Eaton uses the kalimba as a tool for worship, and now she is ready to share her kalimba music with you in her Treble Kalimba Hymnal. The 50 hymns in this book, written in kalimba tablature using the KTabS program, makes this the largest collection of music arranged for the treble kalimba. The hymns in this book are arranged progressively, starting simply enough that beginners can use it, but ending with more challenging hymns. Most of the hymns don't use the top four notes of the treble kalimba, so you can use the same tablature for the Alto kalimba, though an ALTO Kalimba Hymnal and an 11-Note Diatonic Kalimba Hymnal are also in the works. This book doesn't come with a CD, but you can download the hymns in KTabS format and "play" them on your computer to hear just what the hymns sound like. And a final treat: the hymns all have words, though as the tablature runs from bottom to top, the words seem upside down - a bit as if God wrote out the words on the road so you could read them as you drive. We are offering the Treble Kalimba Hymnal for $15.

XX for Karimba


If you purchase this product, we'll send you a data CD to play on your computer that includes a 26 minute instructional video, which helps you piece together the 15 variations for the three parts of this piece. Also included on the data CD are the tablature and the KTabS files for "XX", and text instructions for how to use these files. Right now, you can purchase the XX Composition for Karimba on CD for $10.


There is a price increase coming on April 2 (just so nobody thinks its an April 1 joke). AMI has raised the price of their kalimbas by 10%. We are passing on an average increase of 8% on all Hugh Tracey kalimbas. So, the April price increase will make this week's 15% off sale look even better. If you've been looking for the right time to purchase a second kalimba, a book or CD, or another kalimba for a gift, NOW is a great time to do it - you may never see kalimba prices this low again. It's like you've been given a chance to fill up your gas tank on sub-$100-per-barrel oil.

Also around April 2, we'll be putting out the first Kalimba Magic catalog. Drop us a line if you would like one!



I will be doing a kalimba workshop for music therapists on April 3, 2008 at the WRAMTA conference in Seattle. This workshop will focus on the creative uses of the kalimba as a simple instrument which can be unexpectedly expressive. If you are interested in this workshop, you may need to register for the WRAMTA conference. I am looking forward to doing more workshops like this one. I usually have a conference sale of 15% off, and this will be no exception (the conference sale will be 15% off the April 2 prices).


I am also offerring world-class kalimba lessons at the bargain rate of $40 an hour. If you are attending the WRAMTA conference and would like to get a better understanding of your new kalimba, or if you live in the Seattle area and you would like to schedule a kalimba lesson, our window of opportunity is coming up. I will be available for lessons on the evenings of April 2, 3, 4, and 5, and on the morning of April 6. Please drop me a line or call me, Mark Holdaway, at (520) 881-4666.



Before I became a kalimba master, I played all kinds of other music, including this original folk rock song recorded live at the Tucson Folk Festival in 2004. Just a freebie now, I put it on the web because someone named Monica was interested in the kalimba. David Harris plays electric guitar, I play acoustic guitar, Phil Anderson plays bass, and Jonathan Crowe plays drums.

Interview: AMI's Kalimba-making Team

Six people who are very important to the world of kalimba players...

Most people reading this newsletter have an idea about who Hugh Tracey was and how he translated the magic of the traditional African lamellaphones into a new instrument that bridged Africa and the world of western music. But most of you don't know very much about the people who actually build the Hugh Tracey kalimbas that you enjoy so much. Today, that all changes, for Kalimba Magic has interviewed the Kalimba Team at AMI.

The AMI Kalimba team are:

Stan Photo

Stan Mngambe

Stan is the person in charge of production in the workshop. Cuts the wood and puts together the basic boxes.

Lena C Photo

Lena Christian

Lena puts in the notes and paints tines. An original member of AMI/Grahamstown.

Lena van Heerden Photo

Lena van Heerden

Lena does the sanding and varnishing of boxes. Joined AMI 24 years ago.

Mark Photo

Mark Komsana

Mark does drilling, installing of pickups, tuning and packing. This is his 5th year at AMI.

Michael Photo

Michael Dyasi

Michael helps put tops and bottoms together and helps with finishing. He joined when AMI took over Power Marimbas. He is in charge of Marimba production (has been making Marimbas for the longest in South Africa) but helps with Kalimbas in busy times.


Cecil Scheeper.

Cecil helps with tuning. The newest member of the team, he's been with AMI for a year and a half. He is still learning - so also helps with other instruments in the workshop.

Kalimba Magic: I started out not knowing very much about the members of the kalimba team, so I asked them about what they do for AMI and asked them to tell me something they thought was important for the world to know about what they did or who they were.

Stanley Mngambe: This is my thirteenth year. I am also cutting the Kalimba parts - sides, ends, tops and bottoms. I coordinate the Kalimba team. I am trying to make AMI a successful factory. I want the world to know that I am a very hard worker. And also [I am] trying to do my work better than ever.

Lena C: I am making all kinds of Kalimba's instruments. I do the assembly - putting pieces of boxes together. Putting notes into boxes. I like my work very much, and the kalimbas I am doing is very important for me because my work is my bright future.

Lena van Heerden: This year I am 24 years at AMI. I am doing hand sanding and varnishing. I like my work very much, especially the sanding and varnishing.

Mark Komsana: I do tuning, packing, drilling, sanding, varnishing, installing pickups, buffing kalimba bodies and am involved with some other instruments such as marimbas, sanding, assembly etc..... [I want the world to know] that AMI produces the finest of quality of instruments and that the staff are commited and dedicated to their work. I personally find the Kalimba a magical, beautiful, rhythmic instrument to play, especially the ALTO, just love the vibrating sound, when you open and close the two sound holes at the back of the instrument.

Michael Dyasi. [I work on] making Marimbas, and help with Kalimbas. Generations before us were using this kind of instrument when trying to connect with the ancestors, playing them at jubillees and ceremonies. For me to be involved in making such an instrument is an honor because I feel like I am making it possible for the present and coming generations to connect and enjoy music in so many ways.

Cecil Scheepers: One year and five months, I've been working on Kalimbas - tuning them, and building Marimbas. The most important thing for me is to accept everything that lives because it is a gift from God. Feel free in what you are doing because miracles happen every day.

Kalimba Magic: To the entire Kalimba team: Your dedication to making the best musical instruments shows clearly, not only in your words, but also in the instruments you are making. Your dedication to working hard and to improving your product is also clear. I want to thank you all for your positive attitudes and your strong work ethic. But mostly I want to thank you for the spirit which you bring to building kalimbas.

While I have never met any of you, almost every day I think about you and the work you are doing. When I pick up a kalimba, I can see what is right about the kalimba, and occasionally I see what is wrong with it. I have seen thousands of kalimbas at this point, and I can see what is special about a given kalimba. I have taken them apart and put them back together, so I have done the kind of work that you do. I have made my own kalimbas in the past, though I have given that up as I can't make kalimbas as good as the ones that you make. And because of your good work, I am able to stand up and say that the kalimbas I sell are among the best in the world. Without you, I could not say this.

And last - among you, there is a combined 80 years of experience and work at AMI. This is very important to me. It says to me that AMI is a good employer, and that they take good care of their employees. AMI must value your skills and abilities. I think that it must feel like a family. These are things that I am just guessing from the facts that I know, but when I come to visit you soon in South Africa, I will know these things from your faces and your hearts.

To both Lenas: Someone from New Zealand sent me an email message that said they had a friend who traveled to South Africa to see AMI's workshop and see where their beloved kalimba came from. This person met a woman who worked on building the kalimbas, but did not play. He didn't understand this, as the kalimba was one of the best things in his life, so he played some beautiful music for this woman, and she cried - and in the email it said that she had not realized how beautiful the kalimba music could be. I am assuming the woman he played for is one of you. Do you remember this? Or has this happened many times? How does it make you feel, to be creating something that gives people great joy, but it is something that you yourself do not play?

Lena Christian. I feel happy for the people who are happy playing my handmade kalimbas.

But sometimes then I feel so bad that I can't play. I want to learn because I love music. I am singing in a choir. All the kalimbas got beautiful music and I remember the man who was here playing a kalimba saying this kalimba I've got - it is 10 years.

Kalimba Magic: Dear Lena van Heerden: I have noticed that the Alto kalimbas in the last shipment were especially smooth - the wood has a soft appearance, and everything just looks and feels perfect. When I asked AMI director Christian Carver if he had changed the finish, he said no, that more attention was being paid to the fine details. I thought the kalimba wood sanding and finishing was already beautiful, but now everything is even better. I just wanted you to know that your work is appreciated!

So, you have been working at AMI for 24 years - I've been playing kalimba for 21 years, so it is possible that you worked on my first kalimba. Thank you! Tell me, how has working at AMI changed since you've been there?

Lena van Heerden Many things has been changes. We were two doing hand sanding but now it is me. And Stanley is doing the sanding with a hand sander machine.

Kalimba Magic: What do you like about sanding the kalimbas?

Lena van Heerden I like hand sanding with my hands because it's an exercise for me. I like the wood, especially the kiaat wood, because its very beautiful when it is polished.

Kalimba Magic: Dear Mark Komsoma - So, you do everything with the kalimbas! When did you start playing kalimba - before or after you started working at AMI?

Mark Komsoma: I have started playing the kalimba after started working for AMI, while I was in the mountains in Decemer holidays.

Kalimba Magic: What kinds of things do you play on the kalimba? Do you write your own pieces, improvise, or play traditional songs?

Mark Komsoma: Most of the time I improvise and mix songs that you play with some of my freestyles.

Kalimba Magic: As I understand, the kalimba was a widespread instrument across Africa, but was not indigenous to the southern part of South Africa where Grahamstown is located. How do you think of the connection between the instruments you make and the instruments and music of the ancestors in places where kalimbas were indigenous?

Mark Komsoma: I personally don't have any connections when I am playing.

Kalimba Magic: It seems that your job is very important - as a kalimba player, you are the final test that a kalimba must pass before it is sent overseas to someone like me. Before I send kalimbas out to my customers, I check for tines that buzz, or cracks in the wood (I understand these things can develop spontaneously in shipping). You are very familiar with this work! Tell us about the details you look at when you inspect the completed kalimbas.

Mark Komsoma: That the kalimba is in tune, spaced correctly, painted correctly, that the shape of the kalimba looks right, pressure bar is in fine place, the bridge bar and the middle hole is equaly balance for Alto box and Treble Box. I also check for the tines, buzzes and cracks.

Kalimba Magic: For about 20 years, the ALTO kalimba was my favorite too. And I also love the sounds I get from the box-mounted kalimbas (Alto or Treble). I don't know you at all, yet I have known your name for over 2 years, and I think of you often - as if we are brothers with different skin color, separated by an ocean. It is my plan to come to South Africa, probably in July or August. We will meet then and play music together!

Mark Komsoma: I would love to learn more skills and techniques on how to play the kalimba, especially from a musician that had played the kalimba for over 20 years! Geez man, I was five years old when you started playing.

Kalimba Magic: I would love to learn what sorts of things YOU do! We'll just have to teach each other.

Kalimba Magic: Dear Stanley: I want you to know that your work is greatly appreciated too. As coordinator of the kalimba team, you must have an understanding of every task that must be done. So, when you cut the wood, you must be thinking of how Lena Christian will select the different colors to go together. Or if you cut a piece of wood with very coarse grain, you might be thinking about how Lena van Heerden will be able to sand the wood. How long have you been coordinating the kalimba team?

Stanley: I've been doing this job for 12 years now and I haven't realized that I have fallen in love with the wood until now because really when I cut the components for kalimbas - the side, end, tops, bottoms and blocks, I'm trying to cut the best wood. Like if it happens that the wood is having the white surface I try to match that white with brown in all components. I think this is working - because you have mentioned the beauty of our instruments.

Responding to coarse grains: When the wood is delivered the management give us the chance to choose the right from the wrong. When getting one with the coarse grain start working on it with 100/80 grit paper to make the surface more easy to work on hoping that it will be easier for Lena to carry on with fine grit paper.

And thank you for giving me the time to talk about my work - it's helping me a lot.

Kalimba Magic: Dear Michael, As I understand, AMI originally made just the kalimbas. When did they start making marimbas?

Michael: They started making Marimbas in 2000.

Kalimba Magic: Which do you like better - building marimbas or building kalimbas?

Michael: I like them both because they are these magnificent instruments that are making it possible for us to connect.

Kalimba Magic: Which do you like to listen to better?

Michael: Kalimba because its portable.

Kalimba Magic: When I play kalimba, I sometimes close my eyes and I travel to a different place and a different time. I feel that sometimes I become a different person. This experience greatly enriches my life. So, I am thankful to the ancestors - the thousands of people who invented the different kinds of kalimbas many centuries ago, the people who made the kalimba better, or invented a new tuning which was passed on to the new generations.

Michael: The way you respond to the whole instrument gives me a hope that you can share with us some marketing skills so that we can make this kind of instrument popular. My dream is to see every preschool child playing this instrument.

Kalimba Magic: Michael, I have a very similar dream! It is good that we are on the same team.

Kalimba Magic: I must give a huge thank you to Louise Sloman-Fuller who acted as a go-between for me and the Kalimba Team in this interview. Like many things at AMI, this interview never would have happened without her hard work and light heart.

African CD: Dobet Gnahore

Her second CD, Na Afriki, is filled with great music, most of which you can play along with on kalimba

Dobet Gnahore

If you don't own any of Dobet Gnahore's music, I advise you to go and get some! This singer songwriter from the Ivory Coast puts down great tracks on both of her CDs, but today we are concentrating on her second CD, Na Afriki. Most of these songs are in keys that permit you to play along on your Hugh Tracey Kalimbas.

New Sansula Stuff

New Sansula tunings from Peter Hokema and Kalimba Magic


First: the Sansula ($130) and the Pocket Sansula ($64) are both back in stock, and I have a few of the goat skin Deluxe Sansulas ($230). The deluxe Sansulas have a thicker skin than the regular Sansulas. A few people have broken their Sansulas (if you drop it on the ground, chances are it will be transformed into the $64 Pocket Sansula) - I haven't done any crash tests on the Deluxe Sansulas, but they feel significantly sturdier than the regular Sansulas.

If you don't know the German-made Sansula, you owe it to yourself to check it out. It is one of the sweetest kalimbas around, a kalimba with the Ake Bono Japanese scale mounted on a frame drum for some mystery and magic. Other exotic tunings are also available.

Peter Hokema, the creator of the Sansula, has some new tunings and Sansula videos available at his web site.

Some of my customers were interested in making a Sansula with a 17-note karimba. The karimba comes in a tuning somewhere between A major and A minor (i.e., the 3rd, 6th, and 7th are tuned to Africanized intervals), but it is simple to change the tuning to an A minor, which is what the standard Sansula tuning is, and this instrument goes very well with the Sansula. However, Peter says he is not able to make any new instruments at this time. But if you are interested in such an instrument, you should check out Joel Olive on YouTube who took a pocket Sansula (i.e., the Sansula's kalimba without the frame drum) and mounted it on his own African drum. He also has made his own G-based tuning which is delightful. Presumably something like this would work for the Hugh Tracey karimba.

I'd also like to call attention to my video on YouTube on retuning the Sansula - along with a warning I got from someone in Europe - they mentioned that retuning the Sansula nearly destroyed it, but they haven't given me any more details about what that meant. Another person emailed that it took them an hour to retune, as opposed to the "minutes" figure I allude to in the video. Of course, if you would like a Sansula tuned to the Beautiful E tuning, you could always ask me to do it before I send it out to you!

You can view the other Kalimba Magic sansula tunings on our Sansula Insert, which comes with every Sansula you purchase from Kalimba Magic.


The Kalimba Community

Far and Wide

Kalimbas on Tiles

Meeting Sharon and Randy Eaton of KTabS

Last month, I got to meet Sharon and Randy Eaton in Big Bear, CA. Randy wrote the KTabS Kalimba Tablature Software, with the musical guidance of Sharon. I have collaborated with these two folks for almost two years, and while that work has been great, it was wonderful to finally meet them and their family in person. It was great to meet Randy and thank him for his fine program, and it was also great to meet Sharon to discuss a whole bunch of things ranging from chromatic kalimbas to hymns and tunings and.... oh, it was just great! Things from this meeting will be coming out in the Newsletter for months.

Right now, I'd like to share with you the song Cloud Walk, a song that Sharon and I played from the Duets and Trios book which we worked together on. Sharon is playing Treble on the left, and I am playing Alto on the right.

Kalimba Jam for Tucson Visitors

When Eric Freeman arrived in Tucson for an extended trip for warming up from the Boston winter, he dropped me a line, and we got a few folks together for a kalimba jam: Glen Davis, Deb Holdaway, and I joined Eric and our common friend Chad for an evening of great kalimba improvisations, exchanging information on tunings, and stories of how the kalimba has changed our lives. Fortunately, we recorded some of our session.

Listen to the heart of the jam

While that was fun, I have to admit the CD Eric and Kimani are working on is better. I hope that soon I'll be able to turn the world onto this great kalimba music these guys are making.

I plan to do a Kalimba Magic interview with Eric. He came to the kalimba through drumming, and mainly approaches the instrument rhythmically. I have the feeling that a lot of people understand the kalimba this way, so his insights could be very valuable to many folks.

A Free Electronic Tuner for Computer Owners

Teri Zipf (terizipf"(at)"gmail.com) writes to let us know of a free option for tuning your kalimba:
I found PitchPerfect software to tune the kalimba. It's free and it's fantastic. I've had an electric tuner before and I actually prefer this, by far. I thought you might like to know, if you don't already, and you could pass it on to your customers and readers. My kalimba is in tune! The software asks if it can install a bunch of other software, which I guess is not free, and how the little program pays for itself. I just unchecked all those boxes and installed and everything is fine. It is certified spyware free at cnet.com.

[Note from Mark: I personally prefer the freedom of having a portable tuner which can go with me wherever I go. But if you don't need this freedom, PitchPerfect sounds great!]

Mwana Evaluates the Amp U Plug N Play

Mwana Percy (mwana("at")netzero.net) writes:
How's it going Mark? Everything is fine on this end. Check this! I bought one of those amp plugs on ebay from musicboutique for 30.99 shipping included brand new. But I tell you for plugging directly into the kalimba it's not appropriate. Soon as you plug up you begin recieving feedback. I tried it with the pintec pickup mounted on a hollow box kalimba, and on the celeste Alto TM with built-in pickup, and at low or high volume you receive high and constant feedback. However after experimenting with it for more than an hour I discovered how to use it for a few different applications. This unit is beneficial for practicing, but this unit does not have a professional sound for recording or live shows. First, I connected my kalimba to my pandora which has drum presets to jam along with, then connected it to my Boss stomp pedal (compression sustainer) which added more mid range and bass to fatten the drum tracks and sound patches for the kalimba to sound more fuller. This amp plug needs some help if you use a kalimba. I can get some use out of the amp plug because I have a few devices that need amplification to operate but as I said the sound it projects is very klanky and distorted like playing through those miniature walkman size amps that Fender and Marshall make that sells for about 30 or 40 dollars. Probably would work much better if you plug your kalimba into a stomp pedal EQ and then plug the amp plug into the output of the EQ. I tried it with guitar and it works great, but it is not appropriate for kalimba.

Peace Love & Kalimba Forever,
Kalimba Future Music in This Day and Time,
Percy (Mwana) Harrell

Kalimba Music on You Tube

Lucinda Ellison wrote to mention that Phillip Baily was playing one of her mbiras in the Earth Wind and Fire Video we linked to last month.

Here are some very cool kalimba videos. I think the first two are a MUST SEE, and I think most everything is pretty good.

Mark Holdaway Seeks Kalimba Collaborations

I am looking into different types of collaboration for the future. If you would like kalimba worked into your recording, or if you would like me to help you out with a kalimba part that you can play in your music, or if you would like to work together on a book, a concert, or a workshop, let's talk! —Mark Holdaway


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