05 February 2019

For Sale: Imitation Karimbas With Bogus Tuning

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

They copy the form, but what is within? buyer beware!

Half the intelligence of playing kalimba resides within your thumbs, and half the intelligence is collected from the ancestors and embedded in the instrument design and its tuning.

What happens when you copy the form of an instrument, but cut it off from its tradition and replace that with something that you made up?

The 17-note instrument with two levels of tines pictured here looks a lot like a Hugh Tracey African-tuned karimba. It looks like it should play traditonal African music. But it is not the same at all, and does not play traditional African music in this made-up, partially chromatic tuning.


If you read any of my blog posts, you know that the African-tuned Karimba, also known as the mbira nyunga nyunga, is a very important part of the family tree of traditional African lamellaphones. ("Lamellaphone" comes from "lamella" (plate or layer), referring to the tines, and "phone" refers to sound.)

One of the new Chinese kalimba makers has started selling instruments that look a lot like the African-tuned karimba. There are two rows of tines, just as the African karimba has. The body is in the shape of the trademark of the African Musical Instruments company, makers of the Hugh Tracey kalimba and the African-tuned karimba. But the tuning is more or less meaningless. They copied the form of the instrument without bothering to learn anything about the music the instrument played or what it was used for. And nowhere is there anything that explains or teaches or provides music for this mutant configuration.Karimba tuning


If you have one of these instruments, at the very least throw away its tuning scheme and create your own more meaningful tuning. Or better - you can retune the instrument as an African-tuned karimba. Then you will be able to play traditional African music on it. You would also then be able to make use of all of Kalimba Magic's help, educational materials, and music in tablature form for the African-tuned karimba.

Retuning one of these kalimbas would be most optimal if the tines could be reconfigured to match the longest tines to the lowest notes and the shortest tines to the highest notes (which is how kalimbas are made)... but that would require taking the instrument apart, and the maker of this instrument glues the bridge down, making it difficult to rearrange the tines. It does look quite possible to retune to the African tuning without rearranging tines, but then various tines would stick out over the back edge in a somewhat unkempt manner. Or you can send the kalimba to us at Kalimba Magic and we can do the retuning (or the more extensive reconfiguration) for you.

Or better still - get an actual African-tuned karimba from us, and a book or two on how to play it.

The internet makes many things available to us that we never would have seen before. It is good to innovate and make up new things, but I recommend that extreme care be taken in the purchase of very inexpensive instruments. It can make a life's worth of difference, between possibly having a poor and short-lived relationship with a sham instrument that has a pretend tuning, and a long and happy and rich experience with the real thing for which there is real support.

About the Author

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway

Mark Holdaway has been playing kalimba for over 30 years.  He invented his kalimba tablature in 2004, and has been writing books and instructional materials for kalimba ever since.  His business, Kalimba Magic, is based on the simple proposition that the kalimba is a real musical instrument capable of greatness.  Mark's kalimba books are a down payment on this proposition.