Maurice White's Kalimba Prelude to "Evil"
Now Available in Tablature!

Back in the sixties and early seventies the kalimba began to appear in the music of such American artists as Taj Mahal and the R & B band, Earth, Wind & Fire. In this video you can watch Maurice White playing the kalimba prelude to "Evil," a song written by Phillip Bailey and Maurice White in 1973.

People have asked me for years which kalimba Maurice White was playing. I could tell from videos on YouTube that Maurice played a Hugh Tracey Treble - at least early on in his career. I know that later on, Maurice bought electric kalimbas from Lucinda Ellison of Harmonic Journey.

Maurice White and Lucinda Ellison

When I met Paul Tracey, Hugh Tracey's younger son, in 2005, the first thing I noticed was his California license plate "KALIMBA!" He said that he and Maurice White had both requested that vanity plate the same year in the mid 1970s, and a judge had to decide who had the more legitimate claim. Paul won.

I asked Paul about Maurice White's kalimba, and he said that it was a Treble, but that Maurice had told him that he had just retuned it to a chord. But that isn't exactly true.

I just spent two hours watching and watching, starting and stopping the YouTube video of "Evil" (ooh, my aching wrist!) and I now have one possible tuning for Maurice White's Treble kalimba. He starts the intro playing a repeated A note, but he has two tines, one on the left and one on the right, tuned to the same A note, so he can play it quickly! This is actually a traditional African trick, to put the same note on the kalimba, but on opposite sides. In fact, Maurice has done that with a number of notes. In addition to giving the opportunity of repeating a note very quickly, it also takes unwanted notes off of the instrument so you can play with freedom, without fear of hitting a note you don't want. This can give you confidence and a great spirit to your music.

Maurice White's Evil Tuning

This tuning may not be the exact same tuning Maurice White is using in the YouTube video, but it is a tuning with which you can play Maurice White's "Evil." This tuning also requires the minimum amount of retuning from the standard Treble tuning. The two F# tines are tuned up to G, and the three B tines are either tuned up to C or down to A (for the lowest tine). This results in a pentatonic A minor tuning with four pairs of redundant notes.

Not only was I able to develop a workable tuning similar to what Maurice uses, I also made a pass at figuring out the actual notes he is playing - at least what he is playing live in this YouTube performance of "Evil." I invite you to download the tablature for "Evil" in PDF. To actually hear and see the tablature played, download the tablature for "Evil" in KTabS* format. My tablature isn't playing exactly what Maurice plays, but it is pretty close, and should give you a very good idea of how you can play his part.

My Own Improvisation Using the "Evil" Tuning

This video shows me playing guitar and a Hugh Tracey Treble kalimba in "Evil" Tuning. While Maurice White plays in A minor, you can also play in C Major and D neutral (there is no major or minor third if you play in D, so it could be either major or minor, depending on the context). I arranged this demo piece to illustrate all three of these modes.

I start out in D (the three D tines are painted blue) - and the guitar provides the context making this a D major. At 0:50, the guitar switches to A minor and, of course, the kalimba goes along for the ride. The four A notes on the kalimba are painted black. At 1:30 the guitar switches to C major, and the kalimba follows suit. The kalimba's four C notes are painted red. At 1:50 the guitar goes into E minor - only the E and G notes on the kalimba sound really good with E minor, and those are the notes that are not painted at all. At 2:08 we are back in A minor, and I use the same trick Maurice uses - I play the two redundant A notes on the left and right side back and forth - i.e., playing faster than I could if there were only one of them. At 2:43 I am back to D, and as the song winds down, it changes back and forth between C and D.

If you would like an Evil-Tuned Treble kalimba, there are three routes to take. You could order a regular Treble kalimba (with five tines painted red or blue), and I could retune it. OR you could call me up and get a kalimba like the one in the video, which has unpainted tines with the A, C, and D notes indicated with three different colors of Sharpie pens (OK, black and blue are too close, but I just got a set of 10 colors - you call it!). OR you could just do it yourself - we've provided the tuning for you.

This is the sort of thing I do best. I don't make kalimbas. I'm not famous. I can't sing, I ain't pretty, and my legs are thin. But standing on the shoulders of giants and using my head, I make the connections and I figure these things out. Paul Tracey, Maurice White, Earth, Wind & Fire, Lucinda Ellison, the KTabS people, and all the people who have asked me about Maurice White because they love Earth, Wind and Fire and, of course, the kalimba and the African ingenuity that brought this magical musical instrument to us in the first place... We are all in this together.