Nov. 28, 2014

Vol. 9, Num. 3

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Message from Mark
On Ancient Music

Two F Karimbas
Left: Hugh Tracey F-15 Karimba
Right: an extended traditionally-built karimba.

On several instances, I have had the opportunity to translate traditional music from some form of tablature or from staff notation into KTabS, kalimba tablature sofware, which creates the tablature for the books I write. In some ways it is a very dry occupation, requiring a lot of concentration and strictly logical, almost mechanical, thought. I love being creative, but this is not creative work.

Why do I do this thing that - at least based on my first paragraph's description - seems to be all drudgery and no fun? Well, it is an intellectual puzzle. I need to be on the lookout for mistakes, in my own work as well as potential mistakes in the sources I am transcribing from. This is work that I am good at, and not so many people are good at. And once I have put the work in and bundled the songs together and put them up for download from Kalimba Magic, then they are available to many karimba players all around the world. So in part, I do this work to share with musicians everywhere - to make these songs known to the world and not cloistered in a book somewhere... to bring new life both to the songs and to the players.

But the main reason I stand to do this tedious work? Because of the wonderful feeling I get when I play the music back in time and I can see and hear and feel the logic of this ancient African music. Brilliant!

If you don't believe me, listen to Amai Vachauya.

I often try to take a scholarly stance on things, but I am not really a scholar. I live in the wild west. I am a swashbuckler. I like to have fun.

Fortunately, my life has been touched by scholars. Ivodne Galatea of Australia is one. Ivodne sat in the library for hundreds of hours, exhaustively going through mentions of the kalimba, karimba, mbira, and other African lamellophones, paying special attention to the songs. Many of the songs Ivodne found were for the 3-octave mbira dzavadzimu. But Ivodne next did something remarkable, strange and clever: entered the songs into a computer program that had the feature of compressing the range of the songs to accommodate instruments of smaller range, such as the African Karimba (known also as the mbira nyunga nyunga). Sometimes compressing the range in pitch will render a song unrecognizable, sometimes the true glory of the song continues to shine through the modified version of the song.

Through this technique, Ivodne Galatea has been able to bring several songs normally played on the mbira over to the F-15 note and A-17 note karimbas - basically opening up a new repertiore to this ancient instrument. There are several more songs in this collection that are traditionally played on the karimba, and they are generally more straightforward to play. Ivodne did this work because she loves these instruments and this body of music, and wants it to be available to people in the world.

It gives me a huge thrill to piece these songs together in my mind, to be touched by and to understand something of the Ancient Logic in these songs. The people who wrote this music, a half a world away from me in Africa and perhaps centuries ago, I see that they were every bit as awesome in what they did as any rock star is today. I open up my heart to let the logic and the spirit of this music live on in me.

If you would like a piece of this Ancient African Logic, please check out the article on the advanced 11 Traditional Songs for African Karimba (AKA mbira nyunga nyunga) download.

Actually, we have three different downloads:
One for the 15-note Dumi-style nyunga nyunga instrument in F, which is closest to the original songs;
One for the 17-note Hugh Tracey African-tuned karimba in A, which is still very close to the original tunes;
And finally, also for the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba - which requires a totally different fingering from the original tunes on the karimba.

And if you are interested in modern kalimba music, just be aware that the Kevin Spears Style Kalimba is available once again.

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