Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Original African Mbira - The Student Karimba
Wa Nchimishawa

Student Karimba

I invite you to listen to Wa Nchimishawa on the Student Karimba. The Student Karimba book starts out easy and familiar, but builds up to African tunes such as this one.

A.M. Jones, a musician and missionary, wrote a paper in 1950 on the 8-Note karimba as played by the Lala tripe of northern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and this is one of the songs he notated. The instrument he was studying had 10 notes and was called the kankobela. The main eight notes were none other than the eight notes present in the Student Karimba. The extra two notes were added between 1930 and 1950.

WaNchimishawa in tablature

Here is what Jones said about the music of this sweet instrument:

The performance of a song with chorus and Kankobela accompaniment is a restful, ever-varied, and wholly delightful art form: one may use the word ‘exquisite’. Everyone is listening with rapt attention and appreciation to the accompanying continuo on the Kankobela: it is this which is the foundation of the song. The song is, as it were, a short thread woven at intervals into the continuous playing of the instrument. The tune played is a short one repeated many times, but a good player is continually introducing subtle variations of melody, harmony, or rhythm, and there is never a dull moment for those who understand what is happening. He plays alone: he croons the cantor’s part: the chorus joins in softly and feelingly: they stop and he goes on playing solo for some thirty seconds, and then sings the cantor’s part for the second verse-and so on. It is a beautiful performance: there is a wistfulness in it, a far-off charm that baffles description. But if anyone wants to find the real soul of beauty in African music, one certain way is to listen, in the evening, to a group of Africans led by a competent Kankobela player.

This and other African and modern songs are available in the new Kalimba Magic book on the Student Karimba. Over the next several weeks, we'll find out more about what is in this new book.