TIP: Exploring Sansula Tunings – p1 – What is a Sansula?

All sansulas have nine tines, four of them bent upward

Renaissance Sansula product page

Kalimba Magic started making the first alternative sansula tunings many years ago, and we are the only people to have made instructional materials for the sansula and its alternative tunings. This series of tips is an overview of Kalimba Magic’s sansula tunings and related instructional materials. 

We start our series of tips with the nuanced question: “What is a sansula?”

This used to be a much simpler question. When Peter Hokema invented the sansula, it had four main properties: it was a 9-note kalimba with four of the tines bent upward into a second row; the kalimba was mounted on the membrane of a small frame drum; it was tuned to an Ake-Bono-like A minor scale; and it was made by Peter Hokema.  The name sansula derives from the name sanza, one of many names for traditional African thumb pianos.  The “-ula” part of the name is a diminutive suffix, so “sansula” means “little sanza”.

Peter Hokema later started to make other types of sansula, even one without the frame drum.  You can see three of Hokema’s four sansula models in this photo: at the far left is the Pocket Sansula, below is the Renaissance Sansula with Remo synthetic drum skin membrane, and to the right is the Deluxe Sansula with goat skin membrane.  (We do not sell the standard sansula because the paper head breaks easily.) The top instrument in the photo is the Kalimbula, made by Hands On Drums.

Nowadays, there are at least two other makers of instruments I would call sansulas: Meinl makes a 9-note sansula copy, and now the Hands On Drums people are making the kalimbula which is a sanctioned version of the sansula with genuine Hokema hardware.  And truth be told, I have created 9-note sansulas on Catania and Goshen 8-note bodies.  You can create your own sansula too.  And, because they all can play the same sansula music, I would call them all sansulas.

What we thought of as the standard sansula tuning is just one of many tunings. There are literally millions of possible tunings on a 9-note sansula, and who knows how many of those would sound fantastic?  The important thing is that each tuning sounds different and plays different music. So this broadens the definition of what a sansula is even further.

Kalimba Magic ships all four of the pictured sansulas in a wide variety of tunings, and we now have instructional materials for five of those tunings.  Keep on following this series of tips, and you’ll learn about the differences among the tunings, what music they play, and what books are available for the tunings.


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