Student Karimba News
Book Reviews & the New Goshen 9-Note

Build it and they will come! Or in this case, write the book, and they will build the instrument that goes with it.

The Student Karimba - the lower 8 or 9 notes of the full African-Tuned Karimba - is the common denominator among essentially all southern African lamellaphones, and is at the heart of the mbira dzavadzimu. It is hypothesized by Andrew Tracey to be the original mbira that appeared in Africa some 1300 years ago, the grandmother of all other instruments, yet this relatively simple instrument is not played by very many people at all.

It is my hope that this great instrument can be a doorway to an experience of the ancient African mind, providing us with a renewed appreciation for ancient African genius. To help accomplish that, Peter Shapiro of Goshen Kalimbas has created a newly designed 9-note Student Karimba in G that goes with the book. This student karimba is of high quality and is also very economical. You can see it in this video playing the last song from the Student Karimba book.

student karimba book
The new Student Karimba book:
52 pages, CD included, $20.

I sent my Student Karimba Book to two experts of traditional Shona music for their reviews - Andrew Tracey, Hugh Tracey's son and the director of the International Library of African Music (ILAM) from 1977 to 2006, and B. Michael Williams, author of several books on playing mbira and a good player of traditional music on both the Mbira Dzavadzimu and the Mbira Nyung Nyunga (also known as the karimba).

I'll start off with Andrew Tracey's comment about the name for the instrument, Mbira Nyung Nyunga:

My point of view on the name nyunganyunga: It was introduced by Dumisani Maraire, probably by analogy with the already existing, but only remotely related nyonganyonga, which is played by the Barwe, who live just over the Mozambique border from where Maraire grew up in Marange. Maraire was a talented Shona musician whose career took off when he spent twenty or more years on the US west coast teaching karimba and marimba. He must have heard the word at some point in his youth, and not knowing any other name for the Kwanongoma College style of karimba, used a variant of it. The nyonganyonga is hardly known inside Zimbabwe, so there is not much confusion there, but in the larger Shona scheme of things it is only confusing to have such similar names for quite different instruments. The instrument we are talking about is a karimba, and is known by that name over a vast area of the Zambezi valley in four countries.

In other words, the name mbira nyunga nyunga was probably an invention by Dumisani to refer to the Kwanongoma College style of karimba, and is pretty much only used in the US, and Andrew prefers the name karimba. Andrew continues about the book:

Thank you for sending me the book, and my congratulations on another well-worked piece of kalimba material. Good-looking production, painstaking work, good binding, lots of practical music, some of it very simple, but it takes a player through the principles step by step. An interesting thought you have built on, that playing an ancient instrument puts you in the same frame of mind as the ancients who played it.

student karimba book
First variation from the song in the video.

Now on to the comments of B. Michael Williams:

Mark Holdaway's "The Student Karimba" has the potential to open doors wide for students of all ages to experience authentic African music. The book includes we'll-researched background information and sound teaching tips; breaking songs down into component parts for easy understanding. The tablature notation is nothing short of ingenious---easier than "painting by the numbers" ---and almost instantly you are playing real African music and connecting with a centuries-old tradition. The accompanying CD recording is beautifully done --- makes me want to play along! Mark Holdaway has a real gift for connecting with people through this universal music.

In the coming years, I look forward to watching this new version of a truly ancient instrument become more popular in the schools, in ethnomusicology programs at universities, and in living rooms and campsites around the world. I look forward to people learning the old ways and inventing new music on this unique kalimba.

- Mark Holdaway