06 December 2016

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 2

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements, Tips

FAST SAME-SIDE PLAYING: AN ESSENTIAL STRENGTH FOR MAKING MBIRA MUSIC ON KALIMBA

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 2

 

To me, traditional African mbira music is one of the best musics I have ever experienced.  I feel it's the pinnacle of African music.  It has pure logic, with a spiritual core.  Even though its structure is many centuries old, every time I hear it, it sounds fresh and modern to me.  (You can hear two wonderful mbira songs right now by clicking in Related Articles below, on "Listen to Mark..." or the YouTube song below it.) This music is magical, speaking to a deep inner part of my being.  And there are many in the world who agree with me!

In my years learning and playing kalimba, I have not spent much time trying to play mbira music.  But I have come to be very interested in this amazing genre, and want to make it accessible to many more people.  I am on a quest to learn African mbira music and translate it onto the Hugh Tracey kalimba and the African Tuned karimba, which are not nearly as demanding or complex to play as the mbira.  I know there are many other people who play and love the kalimba as I do, and I believe that they would enjoy playing this music on kalimba as well.  Being that kalimba is my "native musical language", and it is the instrument I play the most and feel the most natural on, playing mbira music on the kalimba is a bit like learning a foreign language.  But I am seeing the way... and I am sharing that way with you.

The last post regarding mbira dealt with developing a facility playing octaves and fifth intervals which are a crucial part of mbira musical structure.  This post demonstrates a simple exercise for playing quickly on one side, and is another motion you need to be comfortable with to play mbira music on the kalimba.

 

14 November 2016

The System of the Mbira - Part 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The chords and phrase structure behind most mbira music

The System of the Mbira - Part 1

Most "primitive" music is so-called "two-phrase" music - basically a call phrase and a response phrase, or a question and an answer.  This simple musical form exists across cultures, in nursery rhymes, and in basic karimba music.

Sometime between 600 and 1000 years ago in the Zambezi Valley of southeastern Africa - let's suppose during the peak of the "Great Zimbabwe" civilization - an incredible innovation occurred: that primal two-phrase tune pattern evolved into a "four-phrase" pattern.  This innovation was momentous. Doubling the length of the original two-phrase cycle had the effect of expanding the possibilities of the music by far more than a factor of two. This four-phrase musical structure is the essence of the sound of the mbira. It is one of the pinnacles of African music, culture and intellect. 

In this post I will impart my conceptualization of an essential African musical form to you, and will start with the basic chord progression common to a lot of four-phrase mbira music. This harmonic understanding, which can be applied to any instrument, will be demonstrated on guitar in the keys of G and A.

12 December 2016

The System of the Mbira - Part 2

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

You can start at different points in the cycle to make different songs

The System of the Mbira - Part 2

Sometime between 600 and 1000 years ago in the Zambezi Valley of southeastern Africa, something amazing happened - four-phrase mbira music was born.  This revolutionized the music that had been played for a very long time, and greatly increased its sophistication, sort of like going from nursery songs to Pachelbel's Canon.

The new musical structure was complex enough to support a wide range of songs.  In fact, new songs in this vein continue to be created today. There is basically an infinite supply of mbira-type music.

In this post we begin analyzing how new songs can be created within this four-phrase system. One way is to start the song at different places in the cycle.  We show you two common places to start, and illustrate the differences in the music.

12 December 2016

“Kalimba” The Movie

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

AZPM video program about kalimbas, Mark, and Kalimba Magic. And a challenge!

“Kalimba” The Movie

Kalimbas are an exotic and intriguing musical experience to many, and recently Arizona Public Media (AZPM) created “Kalimba,” which was broadcast on their weekly TV magazine Arizona Illustrated.  “Kalimba” features the kalimba and Mark Holdaway, founder and owner of Kalimba Magic in Tucson, Arizona. This quick tour gives a brief overview of Mark's kalimba universe and the history and sound of this diverse family of instruments known as “lamellophones,” with excellent depictions of many fascinating modern and ancient kalimbas and their cousins.

28 November 2016

The Magical Music Box

Written by Tabitha Danloe, Posted in News and Announcements

A delightful musical story for children of all ages, reviewed by Tabitha Danloe

The Magical Music Box

This is a really sweet musical Christmas story, written and performed by Mark Holdaway.  While this combination storybook and CD set is aimed at children, I think a lot of people would resonate with its beautiful message and the lovely kalimba music that accompanies it.  

On the eve of Christmas, with no gift for his own son, a poor toymaker finds an old, broken music box. He can't repair it, but an angel appears, and she magically fixes the music box.  But the music box is no longer a normal music box.  It now has a very special property: the music box speaks to the heart of whoever is winding it up, and plays their favorite Christmas song!

 

01 December 2016

New Kalimbas from Roots Production in France

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

New Kalimbas from Roots Production in France

Andrew Masters of Roots Production in France has been making kalimbas for over 20 years.  His designs are unique - they echo some rustic but refined instruments made in Africa with their handmade, very smooth tines.  In fact, these may be the sweetest tines of all to play on.

And once you play the tines, the elliptical metal sardine-can resonator body rings ever so sweetly.  Yes, these kalimbas are actually built from sardine cans!  Wow!

Kalimba Magic is very happy to carry these kalimbas, with a limited shipment planned for early 2017, and you can preorder one now.

01 December 2016

Easy Christmas Carols - "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" on Alto

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements, Tips

You may be surprised - you can play this simple carol and you can read tablature!

Easy Christmas Carols -

I've heard this story from more than a hundred people by now: people had been living under the burden of the belief that they were simply unable to make music, but then they discovered the kalimba, and they discovered they could make music on the kalimba, and they were even appreciated for the music they were able to make.

If you are reading these words, you probably know you can make music.  But you might be convinced that you cannot read tablature. 

This blog post is a message to you: you CAN read tablature, and you CAN play songs that everyone around you will recognize.  And Christmas carols are the perfect place to start.

30 November 2016

Early Kalimbas - a Speculation

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

the evolution of kalimbas and channeling how they might have sounded

Early Kalimbas - a Speculation

 Kalimbas have a rich, varied, and very long history.  Early kalimbas were likely quite different from anything you have seen. Over the years/in my travels in a life focused on playing, writing, and teaching about kalimbas I have picked up two historical instruments by happenstance that to me are preciously full of history and secrets, which both compels and intrigues me. Both instruments were originally separately acquired in Africa in the 1950s… that much I know. Their stories, heritage, and sound constitute an important piece of the “genetics” of the kalimba, and I suspect that you may be interested in learning a little more about them too.

 

30 November 2016

Playing "When I'm Gone" (the "Cups" song) on C Alto Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Get the free C Alto tablature for this huge internet hit song

Playing

A few years ago, I saw a 10-year-old girl flipping her cup to this song, and I have to admit I was blown away by how well she was doing it.  Last month when I found the video for Anna Kendrick's pop song "When I'm Gone" and connected it to the cup routine I'd seen some years before, I suddenly understood why this video has 300 million views - it takes dozens of views to learn how to do that cup jive!

I put in my dozens of views - but it wasn't to learn the cup trick. I was, at first, freeform jamming along on the kalimba.  But slowly, the more I played with this song, the more my playing settled down into a repeatable part.  And that's what I share with you here.

27 November 2016

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

familiarity with octave and fifth intervals gives the basic foundation for playing traditional mbira music on the Alto kalimba

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 1

African mbira music is tremendously compelling to me, and I had been working to translate it onto the more accessible Hugh Tracey Alto and Treble kalimbas for months but feeling quite frustrated.  I could not find my intuitive wisdom with this traditional music. When it came, the realization was like the sun coming up after a long dark night, and suddenly shining bright on the mountains. The issue was... intervals!  (You can hear two wonderful mbira songs right now by clicking in Related Articles below, on "Listen to Mark..." or the YouTube song below it.)

Basically, the distance between any two notes is called an interval. Most western music is based on small intervals, such as the 2nd and 3rd, while much of African music is based on larger intervals, such as the 8th (octave) and the 5th. I had just realized that my western training needed to get out of the way just a little bit, so a different way of seeing music could bloom. In this post we discuss intervals and give some simple exercises to help you get a solid footing with these building blocks of all music, and especially of mbira music.

 

21 November 2017

What's New at Kalimba Magic?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Save 25%, New Products, New Tunings, and New Services

What's New at Kalimba Magic?
  • We have a 25% discount coupon code for some of our most popular non-electrified kalimbas.
  • We have a new middle eastern tuning for the Alto kalimba and some great new paired tunings for playing Pentatonic and Alto kalimbas together.
  • We have new kalimba accessories.
  • And for the holiday season, we're offering gift wrapping service with kalimba purchases. 

15 November 2016

Experiencing Gratitude - Walking, Kalimba, and Christmas Carols

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

This is the main technique I use to keep on the happy side of life

Experiencing Gratitude - Walking, Kalimba, and Christmas Carols

While I have not been diagnosed with clinical depression, I am prone to struggle with depression.   Or rather, I would struggle with depression, except that I have a powerful tool at my disposal that proves effective against depression.

Some days I wake up and tell myself I don't need my early morning walk, and on those days, I tend to take a nosedive around 9 or 10 AM.  By then, I realize that this is my wake-up call.  If I don't go out, walk, and play kalimba - for myself and for the world - then I will soon be sliding down that black hole.

As I was walking today at 9:30 - quite late for me, but in time to save the day - I was struck by a chord of gratitude for, through, and because of, my kalimba music.

20 November 2016

Sound Files to Help You Tune Your Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Listen to MP3s for Alto, Treble, Sansula, Karimba, and Lotus

Sound Files to Help You Tune Your Kalimba

I've seen it happen dozens of times - maybe hundreds.  Someone gets a kalimba with the best of intentions, they sort of connect with it, but they are afraid to really take ownership of the instrument - they doubt their own ability to tune the instrument.  And so over time, their kalimba drops out of tune, playing becomes unpleasant, and the kalimba goes into the closet.

But I have also seen the opposite.  I have seen people who doubted their own musical ability and doubted they had the technical skills to maintan their instrument's tuning.  However, they so wanted to play the kalimba, that they overcame their self-doubt and connected with their inner musicality, trusted their ear, and successfully tuned their kalimba.

These sound recordings - where you hear me playing each note, properly tuned, slowly, from left to right, for some of our most popular kalimbas - should help you transition into successfully maintaining your instrument's tuning.

14 November 2016

What kalimba plays the songs on Top 40 Radio?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

I've been jamming out on kalimba... playing along with Top 40 Radio!

What kalimba plays the songs on Top 40 Radio?

I was very disappointed on election night a couple weeks ago, as I am sure many of you were as well. Leading up to the election, I had taken to listening to more and more news and analysis, mostly on NPR and Democracy Now, and when I saw the writing on the wall, I decided I needed to take a huge break from the news. So now, when I drive somewhere, or when my clock radio wakes me up, I listen to a local Top 40 / variety radio station (92.9 FM if you are in Tucson).

To my surprise, and for the first time in my life, I love pop music! And I have been playing along with the radio on my kalimbas. I've been having a lot of fun, and I thought that it would be useful to many people if I shared the keys of these songs and what kalimbas will play in those keys.

 

14 November 2016

"Taireva" Tablature for Mbira and C Alto Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Learning this song on Alto Kalimba has put me into "Beginner's Mind"

Have you ever read the book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"?  The basic idea is that we can make great progress on our journey by approaching everything with an open, beginner's mind, for it is in this state that we are ready to be taught, we are ready to see, and we are ready to understand.  The expert who already knows everything might not ever see the truth.

While I like to think of myself as a kalimba expert, I do get knocked on my (musical) butt quite often.  So really, I am only an expert at playing in the fairly narrow musical style that I know how to play. 

For me, to learn mbira music on the kalimba is a leveling experience.  The thumb patterns required to play this music on kalimba are so foreign that I have been brought down to the level of "total beginner."

21 November 2016

Afroharp Book Now Available

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

This book shows you how to make great music in the Afroharp tuning

Afroharp Book Now Available

The Afroharp is a legendary 13-note, two-level kalimba created and manufactured for only a short period in late 1960s Chicago. This instrument plays sweet, hauntingly beautiful, harmonic music, and the Afroharp's particular tuning is at the heart of the music it makes.

The Afroharp is gone, with only a few floating around in the world. But Kalimba Magic has started building instruments in the Afroharp tuning, made from Hugh Tracey Alto kalimbas with electronic pickup - just as the original Afroharp had a connection for a "high impedance dynamic microphone", as you can see if you check out the fascinating manual included with new Afroharps back in the day, in the archived newsletter article "Afroharp Article #2" in the links below this post. 

We are happy to offer Playing the Afroharp, a 46-page instructional book with downloadable sound files along with many songs in kalimba tablature.

11 November 2016

The Topsy-Turvy World of Mbira Music

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A close look at the inner workings of the mbira song "Taireva" reveals remarkable and quirky details

The Topsy-Turvy World of Mbira Music

Mbira music is elusive. You think you understand it, you reach to grasp it, but then it slips through your fingers.

There are in truth many ways to understand mbira music - and you learn to strive to come to the place where you touch all of those understandings without holding any.

In another blog post, I give away the tablature for the song "Taireva," for both mbira and C Alto kalimba.   In this post I detail some of the more subtle aspects of traditional mbira music, using "Taireva" to help in the analysis.  I show you new ways to think about mbira music that will help you play it with that magical feeling of dancing in between one way and another.

Also, the level of detail in the traditional music of the mbira is actually pretty inspiring.  That Africans were doing this stuff many centuries ago really speaks to the genius of the ancient African mind.

04 November 2016

LimbaTrip in Japan

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Yohei Kisanuki plays some of the best Chromatic Kalimba in the world!

LimbaTrip in Japan

When Kalimba Magic gets an order for an instrument and we ship it out, we have no idea if this kalimba will sit in its box unused for years, or if it will become the recipient's new best friend, accompanying him or her on daily journeys and sharing beautiful music for years.  I hope the latter, of course.  It is always nice to see when someone does really well with their kalimbas.

I recently learned of the great kalimba artist Yohei Kisanuki through YouTube.  I was particularly impressed by his ease in playing the Treble Chromatic kalimba, and thought that this man may be the best chromatic player in the world.

I invite you to check out some of his kalimba videos, especially if you play chromatic.

09 October 2016

The Freygish Karimba Download, Redux

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

NOSTALGIC, SENSUAL, MYSTERIOUS, SWEET.... THIS KALIMBA PLAYS TRULY UNIQUE MUSIC. THE IMPROVED AND ENHANCED DOWNLOAD IS AVAILABLE NOW. IF YOU HAVE IT ALREADY, UPGRADE IT FOR FREE!

The Freygish Karimba Download, Redux

 

"The Freygish-tuned karimba plays delightful songs, mostly in C harmonic minor.  This instrument brings alive baroque melodies and harmonies, romantic music box waltzes, fiery Middle-Eastern music, and hot Latino cumbia - nostalgic, sensual, mysterious and sweet.  This karimba plays unique music that is not played by any other." (From the back cover of the Freygish karimba download.)

The instrument that you can hear right now, which is playing in the video below, is the Freygish karimba, and the song is "Music Box Farewell," which is the last composition in the Freygish Download.

If you don't know about the Freygish Karimba, come on in and listen to what it does and learn a bit about this wonderful gem of an instrument.

08 November 2016

Karimba Music: Chiwoniso's Song "Chaminuka"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Free tablature for "Chaminuka," for A-17 or F-15 instruments

Karimba Music: Chiwoniso's Song

We have featured the music of the late Chiwoniso before at Kalimba Magic.  Chiwoniso was a talented and charismatic singer and karimba player (which she simply called an mbira). She was also the daughter of Dumisani Maraire (Dumi), who is credited with bringing both the marimba band movement and the karimba to America, starting around 1968.  Dumi was educated about music at the Kwanangoma School of African Music in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe). Chiwoniso grew up traveling with her father and learning African music, between Zimbabwe and Washington state.

I am happy to bring you yet another of Chiwoniso's songs - featuring her gorgeous playing and singing - in tablature for both the A-17 and F-15 karimbas - along with my analysis and speculations on this music.

What you are hearing is the video at the bottom of this article presenting the beginning of a concert given by Chiwoniso. The sound makes it a bit tricky to understand her spoken words, but she is discussing her instrument and its history, and she also introduces the song "Chaminuka", which she named after a great prophet, seer, and healer in the history of the Shona people, who foresaw the coming colonization of their land and always preached love and understanding of each others' differences. (He must have had premonitions of great violence and sadness, things that seem to have been universally experienced when a civilization was invaded and taken over by another.)

08 November 2016

Mbira Song "Chaminuka"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

New tablature for mbira dzavadzimu, plus tabs for Hugh Tracey Alto and B flat Treble Kalimbas

Mbira Song

Chaminuka was a real person, a renowned Zimbabwean prophet who foretold the coming of white European colonialists.  After his death, he became a popular ancestral spirit to channel.  Mbira dzavadzimu were and still are used in these ceremonies.

While researching Chaminuka for the Chiwoniso article, I learned that there are at least two totally different songs by this name: "Chaminuka" for the karimba by Chiwoniso, and an unrelated song for the mbira dzavadzimu.  The mbira "Chaminuka" is the classic pattern described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal work "The System of the Mbira."  I have notated it in my new (and evolving) mbira tablature, and you can also play it on the Bb Treble kalimba and the Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba.  I supply all three of these tablatures to you for free!

04 November 2016

Panic Attacks and Kalimba Medicine

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

I was with someone while they had a panic attack - fortunately I had my kalimba

Panic Attacks and Kalimba Medicine

I was visiting with a friend the other day when, out of the blue, she started to have a panic attack.

I had something like a panic attack once - it was not a very enjoyable experience.  It seemed like the pressure of the entire world was pressing down on my heart and chest.

I have never been with someone else who was experiencing a panic attack, and I don't know much about them. While I immediately recognized that something was wrong, I didn't really have a clue.  Her breath became shallow and rapid, and a very concerned look came over her face.

Then came the words: "I'm having a panic attack."

27 September 2016

New! Hugh Tracey Alto and Pentatonic Kalimba Package

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Two Great Kalimbas that go Great Together!

New! Hugh Tracey Alto and Pentatonic Kalimba Package

One of my favorite things to do is to play kalimba duets with a close friend.

The Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba is one of the most popular and most capable of all kalimbas.  In many ways, it is the gold standard by which all other kalimbas are measured.  I have written more books and music for the Alto Kalimba than for any other, and very often it is still one of my Altos (I have them in G, C, and F now) that I grab when I walk out the door.

The Hugh Tracey Box Pentatonic is a kalimba that is particularly easy to play, because it has 11 notes that cover the same physical space and the same tonal range as the Alto kalimba's 15 notes - that is, the tines are more spaced out both physically and sonically.  It is easier to pluck the tine you intended; and if you pluck the wrong tine there is much less chance for disaster.

As it happens the Alto and Pentatonic kalimbas complement each other beautifully, and sound great together - and now you can get both of these great kalimbas in an attractive package deal.

07 October 2016

"Vitamin K" and Falling in Love with the African tuned karimba

Written by Leslee Morrison, Posted in News and Announcements

Learning tablature, and a new book, opened up the exciting and beautiful world of traditional African songs. By leslee morrison

For me, learning the African tuned karimba with its repertoire of ancient African music is an  infusion of new excitement and inspiration in my playing. I call it "Vitamin K". The instructions that came along with my new Hugh Tracey 17-note karimba said that it is a beginner's instrument; but with 17 tines instead of the 11 that I was familiar with, and with the additional “buzzers,” I discovered that a lot of new and exciting sound can come out of the karimba, far beyond what I experienced with my other kalimbas.

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