26 February 2016

Learn the Afroharp Now

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

This new instructional download takes you from simple to amazing in 46 pages!

Learn the Afroharp Now
Catania Decorative Afroharp

The Afroharp is a legendary 13-note, two level kalimba created and manufactured for a short period in late 1960s Chicago.  Because we feel that the Afroharp is a valuable and compelling instrument, Kalimba Magic has been selling new instruments in the Afroharp tuning for several months. 

Vintage Afroharps are virtually impossible to acquire. I feel incredibly lucky to have recently had one come into my possession. Read on to learn how this vintage Afroharp came to me, what's special about the Afroharp, how this modern kalimba looks and sounds in a video, and more about the new 46-page Afroharp instructional download.

Part of my job is to create new and wonderful music for every kalimba that I think is cool.  If I don’t like a particular kalimba and the music that it makes, I don’t sell that kalimba and I don’t write music for it. The converse is also true: the kalimbas that I sell and the kalimbas that I write for are the ones that I am excited about, and they are the ones that I think have something unique and good to offer to the world. And that is exactly how I feel about the Afroharp.

I have heard about the Afroharp for more than a decade.  I know several people thought they were the coolest little instruments.  But I didn’t see anything I could do about the Afroharp.  I had never even heard one played, except for a YouTube video that featured one that was hopelessly mistuned.

Then came Jonatha Brooke’s song “Time” from her one-woman Broadway play about loosing her mom, called My Mother Has 4 NosesYou can find this song on YouTube - I recommend you listen to it many times over weeks, as each time I watch the video, it strikes my heart deeply and powerfully.  The song features her voice, her raw and wild emotions as she realizes she is not yet ready to let go of her mother, and a little Afroharp “ripping my armor to shreds,” as Jonatha says in her introduction to the song. 

The power of Jonatha's words and the exquisite sounds from the Afroharp led me to feel that the Afroharp is a magical instrument.

Kalimba Magic is fueled directly by the magic that people make with the kalimba, and when I find something truly captivating, I share it.  So I publicized Jonatha’s Afroharp piece in a Kalimba Magic newsletter article.  Within a day, Australian kalimba genius Ivodne Galatea sent me a copy of the original four page Afroharp manual, including the standard tuning, and the 1968 patent application.  These documents opened a window into the understanding that the Afroharp's creators James Wilson and Fred Kaz had for their little instrument.

Late in 2015, a woman named Laurie Anderson in New York (not the performance artist Laurie Anderson, but I have to admit her name did get my attention) sent me an email asking how she could learn to play the vintage Afroharp she had just bought.  At first, I thought I could not help her.  Then I thought about translating songs and exercises from a pentatonic kalimba book to this kalimba.  About a week later, I took a Catania kalimba and set it up and tuned it to simulate the Afroharp, and my thumbs began to learn the ways of this instrument.  I soon realized the Afroharp has its own songs and I began writing a book for this special kalimba.

But the magic didn't stop there. When I was halfway through the Afroharp instructional download, I received a box in the mail from one of Kalimba Magic's very first customers, Rick Everett.  Inside it I found a vintage Afroharp.  Having the real deal in my hands was inspiring and made it so much easier to write down the music that naturally pours out of the Afroharp.  I give great thanks to Rick for this very special gift that has blossomed into the collection of songs and instruction that comprise the Afroharp download.

One more thing about Rick Everett. Rick has held a special place in my heart since I received a postcard from him years ago, telling me how he had been unresponsive in a coma for six weeks following a heart attack and a stroke.  Rick's doctor was trying to convince his brother that there was little hope for Rick’s recovery.  In desperation, his brother put a karimba in Rick's inert hands.  Imagine his amazement when Rick's thumbs began playing a 2 against 3 pattern he had learned from my karimba book!  Needless to say, the doctor changed his prognosis immediately.  So imagine that special spot in my heart and double it now.  (Read the whole story of this dramatic moment in the link below.)

The Afroharp has facilitated some magical experiences in my life.  What makes the instrument itself so wonderful?  To me, it is largely about the note layout.  The Afroharp has every note in the key of C except for F, meaning it can play in C or G or A minor or E minor, which it does with ease.  It shares some qualities of the pentatonic scale (also called the no-fault scale because everything you play on it sounds good) - but the Afroharp actually has one more note, so it is more capable than the pentatonic scale.  The upper row tines are all tuned in octaves with their adjacent lower row tines, a trick which derives from traditional African karimbas, but this feature is designed with the kalimba's left-right alternating layout.  I love the music that just kind of shimmers off this instrument.

To say it succinctly, this kalimba easily plays certain musics that don't come naturally to other instruments.  My 46 page, 41 song instructional download is an exploration of the musics that flow from the Afroharp, starting with very simple exercises that reflect and emphasize the instrument's note layout.  The song in the video below is one of the more advanced songs in the download.  May it shine for you as it does for me.

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.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.