Customer Linda Hears that Music
Linda called me one afternoon earlier this year to order a kalimba – she wanted the pentatonic kalimba. She wanted this kalimba not just for herself – she really wanted to pass this kalimba on to her son and grandchild when she was gone.
“There is music EVERYWHERE! I see and hear music just everywhere. In the evening, I hear the music on the breeze, and see the music of the stars, and the song of the clouds as they blow in and cover the stars, and blow out again to release the stars.
And I want the kalimba to bring that music to life.”
Wow – what a high intention for this little instrument. When I put a kalimba in a box and ship it off, I have no idea if it will be a cherished possession that is touched, held, and played every day, or if it will quietly collect dust in a closet. And Linda was telling me that she wanted this kalimba to translate the song of creation into audible notes. This kind of statement is what I cherish hearing from the people who want kalimbas!
Even though my day’s shipping deadline was fast approaching, I could not interrupt Linda’s beautiful words – I was spellbound, hearing the things that I knew to be true from my own experience, being uttered by this elderly woman.
Being on the phone, of course I didn’t know, but in my mind, Linda was an African-American woman, along in years, who had seen the terrible times of Jim Crow and segregation and the not-so-distant echoes of the slavery era, who had seen general improvement over time, and the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. And she had also seen the continuing residual racism that brings down people of color each and every day. I sensed that she had probably felt beaten down in her life, and that she had not been defeated. A minor miracle.
Linda was speaking with a spirit of hope and beauty and wonder in her voice that made me stop and behold the responsibility of the job of a white man selling a musical instrument made in Africa with a deep, centuries-old tradition.
“When I walk, when I move my legs and my body, I can FEEL it, I can HEAR it. The music is always with me. When the wind blows through the leaves in the trees, when the flowers stand or bow to the sun, I hear the music. When the sun crosses the sky, when the stars come and go, as the seasons turn, I hear the music. I need to get some of that music into my heart, to help me. And I want to pass this beautiful music, and this instrument, on to my son.”
A soulmate with whom I will never walk on this earth.
I wonder: if I passed unexpectedly, I would have an unfortunately large number of kalimbas for my sons to deal with. But I am sure they will each take one or two kalimbas that they could put on their coffee tables and show to their children as they grow: “Yes, Grandaddo was a kalimba master who taught the world how to play kalimba.” And just like me when I was a toddler, my grandchildren will steal to the table, reach out, and pluck a few clear and magical notes and wonder what their future might hold.
And I would like to think, when I pass, that the music that I have created might echo on in the hearts of those whom I have touched. What wonder and delight! And I hope that Linda too can translate the songs of the cosmos into music through the kalimba, and that these songs pass through the ears and into the hearts of those close to her. I hope that when Linda passes, her son and grandchild will hear the echoes of her love in the little kalimba, and that it will be a cherished heirloom to be passed on through more generations to come.
My oldest kalimba is from about 1970 – almost 50 years old; a little beat up, but still sounding beautiful, clear, and calm. Then again, I’ve seen 3-year-old kalimbas that looked and sounded like they’ve been around and seen a lot, and are ready to retire. If you don’t take care of your kalimba, it won’t last longer than you. If you love your kalimba, play it gently, oil it with shea butter, and keep it tuned, it will outlast you and you can pass it on to your descendants.
And that is the game the kalimba has been playing for over a thousand years, being passed down from one generation to the next, like love and understanding. You and me and the kalimba – we are in this game together, for life, and beyond.