Interview: Thomas Bothe and his 2B Kalimbas

This archival 2010 interview sheds some light on a remarkable kalimba maker

These are the 2B kalimbas that will arrive early in January

The “2B Kalimbas” made by Thomas Bothe are very high quality instruments, and, clearly, labors of love. The care and attention to every detail that is evident in the workmanship of these instruments made me very curious about their creator. I was quite pleased that Thomas was able to spend a little time telling me about himself and his work.



KM: Thomas, how long have you been working with wood, and how long have you been
making kalimbas?

I started making kalimbas in 1993, following a 16-month trip to Asia. I started
woodworking at the same time, crafting other instruments like drums, flutes, and
didjeridoos, etc. The first kalimba that I built was a five-tine coconut shell
instrument. People around me liked it, and more or less talked me into making
more, so my woodworking focused more and more just on the kalimba.

KM: You seem to be a totally intuitive kalimba maker – do you have any musical training?
What instruments do you play?

I had some conventional musical training as a child, learning notes and playing the accordion.
But later I forgot all of what I had learned. In my mid-twenties, I played bass with a friend
who played drums; we were inspired by music from Krautrock bands like Can. In India I had
some training on the sitar, the sarod, and the surbahar, and listened to a lot of beautiful
concerts of Indian classical music.

KM: Do you use an electronic tuner when you tune the kalimbas? Do you really make a
special tuning for each kalimba?

I never use electronic tuners for my instruments. When each one is finished, I start
tuning until I am satisfied. Naturally, there is some repetition in the tuning, when
I have to tune a lot of instruments in a short time.

KM: Tell me the sorts of ideas or factors that are in your mind when you invent
a new tuning for a particular kalimba.

To be honest, there are no thoughts or ideas in my mind when I tune a new kalimba. I
just listen and continue tuning until I’’m happy with the result. I determine the
tuning as a suggestion for the buyer, and I have always tried to craft my kalimbas in
such a way that the buyer can easily change the tuning to suit his or her requirement.

KM: Have any stores or internet sellers started to carry your kalimbas?

Some stores in Germany and the Netherlands have been carrying my instruments since 1994.
Currently there is no internet seller carrying my products. Due to the fact that I was
producing kalimbas as a one-man project, the production hasn’t been voluminous enough to
require a larger marketing strategy.

KM: Do you record your own kalimba music?

No, but some of my close friends do.

KM: What sort of person buys your kalimbas?

People from all walks of life buy my kalimbas: the smaller ones are usually bought by women
and parents, who buy them for their kids; the larger or more complex ones are mostly bought
by musicians. Unfortunately, about 70% of my production has gone to stores, so it’s hard
for me to know who is actually purchasing them.

KM: Is making kalimbas your day job, or do you still need to
work at something else to support yourself?

It has been my day job for around half of the time I have been making kalimbas.
It is my wish to do it full-time, but experience has shown that it isn’t always
enough to support me.

KM: What else do you do besides making kalimbas?

I paint and I write. I like to create and prepare meals
for friends. And otherwise, I like to jam with some of my close friends.

KM: Where do you hope to be in your career 10 years from now?

I cannot identify with the word career. I don’t want to be either a winner or a loser.
That’s also the main reason why I have branded my project “2B kalimba”. If the question
is, “where do you hope to be a decade from now”, then I might answer “I hope to be alive,
well, and more aware than today.”

KM: Of all your creations, which one is your favorite?

I don’t have a favorite. I’m always happy being creative and not repetitive.

KM: Thomas Bothe, thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself.
May you continue “2 B” an increasingly aware
light in this world, and may your light help others shine.

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