Articles tagged with: Karimba

05 February 2019

Why Get an African-Tuned Karimba?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Its amazing music puts you in the headspace of Ancient Africa

Why Get an African-Tuned Karimba?

One of the most important things I can say about the kalimba (including the karimba and mbira) is that the understanding of how to play these instruments comes to dwell in my thumbs, while the interpretation of the music into phrases or pulses takes place in my ear or my head.

The brain's frontal cortex is where we slowly puzzle out the music when we're first starting to learn it.  But once we get rolling, it is a different, more primitive part of the brain that is making the music happen - I am guessing it is the cerebellum, which deals with motor control and procedural learning - and that would include learning and playing karimba music. And that is why we can think and talk about something entirely different while we tie our shoes or brush our teeth.

When I play karimba, it feels as if my body is in tune with the ancient Africans when they played similar music, and that my thumbs come to know the way, all on their own.

22 February 2016

Is it Kalimba, Karimba, or Mbira?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

What name should I use for my thumb piano?

Is it Kalimba, Karimba, or Mbira?

When discussing thumb pianos, people use the instrument names kalimba, karimba, mbira, mbira dzavadzimu, and mbira nyunga nyunga - sometimes with specific intent, and sometimes nearly interchangeably.  Where are these different names from, and what do they mean?

26 June 2019

A New High-End Electric Nyunga Nyunga

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The Dave Bellinger 15-Note Electric Karimba in F

A New High-End Electric Nyunga Nyunga

Dave Bellinger has long been known for his solid, meticulously crafted and innovative eKalimba designs (an eKalimba is a kalimba with an electric pickup). This one combines a hot pickup (that is, with a very strong output signal), "graphical buzzalizers," and generally smooth design and construction - with the 15 traditional notes of the mbira nyunga nyunga, also known as the karimba in F.

All of this makes the Bellinger F15 Nyunga a great instrument for looping (a looper is a device that instantaneously records what you're doing and plays it back in a loop, so you can layer multiple parts or instruments at the same time). The lower-row notes are the same notes as on the Student Karimba - meaning complete phrases of African songs can be played on its lower-row notes. So, imagine playing a lower-row song into the looper, and coming back and adding upper-row notes to the second pass of the music.

I do that, and much more, in the video at the end of this article.

13 June 2019

My Story of Hugh Tracey

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

He understood the potential loss of traditional African music to the encroachment of the west, and worked his whole life to preserve it

My Story of Hugh Tracey

Hugh Tracey is a complex and important historical figure in the contemporary kalimba world. I should start by stating my relationship to Hugh Tracey: for the last 33 years, I have played instruments he designed, and for about half that time I have made most of my living by selling Hugh Tracey kalimbas. So I might be a little prejudiced, but Hugh Tracey's work was clearly pivotal in the trajectory of modern lamellaphones.

Hugh Tracey, a white European man, cherished traditional African music and made it his life's work to study and preserve that music. But he also invented and marketed the Hugh Tracey kalimba, which is not a traditional instrument at all, and has, arguably, directed some interest away from traditional instruments such as the mbira dzavadzimu or the karimba.

For me though, the Hugh Tracey kalimba has been a doorway to the world of ancient and traditional African music. Would you like to explore that world, and Hugh Tracey's part in it, with me?

17 May 2019

How is the Karimba related to the Mbira Nyunga Nyunga?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The mystery of the evolving names of the kalimba

How is the Karimba related to the Mbira Nyunga Nyunga?

Evidence indicates that in 1950, kalimba and karimba were used more or less interchangeably to describe any traditional African thumb piano. Seventy years ago, mbira dzavadzimu meant exactly what it does now - a particular traditional Shona thumb piano - and the mbira nyunga nyunga probably was not even a thing yet. Seventy years ago was just before Hugh Tracey began to build and sell a new instrument which he called a kalimba, which combined features of many traditional instruments and had a western tuning.                                                             

Thumb pianos evolved over time and were affected by numerous influences, ancient and modern, African, European, etc. They have a very rich, varied genealogy. Today, kalimba usually refers to non-traditional thumb pianos. Karimba refers to a particular family of traditional African instruments also known as the African-tuned karimba. Mbira nyunga nyunga, which translates to the "sparkly sparkly mbira" is essentially the same instrument as the karimba, though if it is rustic-looking, it is more likely to be called mbira nyunga nyunga, and a workshop-made instrument might be more likely to be called karimba.

But it isn't exactly that simple, and here I will outline the details of this fundamental discussion.

09 May 2019

Traditional African Music for Mbira Nyunga Nyunga

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

This eBook is for the Kwanongoma-style 15-Note Karimba in F

Traditional African Music for Mbira Nyunga Nyunga

The mbira nyunga nyunga, or the 15-Note karimba in F has only been around in this form since 1960. Thousands of Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) and South African youth were taught the traditional songs on this delightful instrument at the Kwanongoma College of African Music. And, remarkably, it could well be that more than half of the notes on this instrument (and most of the songs for it) are essentially the same as what is thought to be the original tuning of an 8-note instrument invented some 1300 years ago.

And now, we are proud to present this eBook documenting many of the oldest-known songs for the mbira nyunga nyunga.

09 May 2019

eBook for the A minor Karimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A new eBook with material for this exotic minor tuning

eBook for the A minor Karimba

Here is a true story. Lex, a Tucson friend of mine who has hit upon hard times, visited us at Kalimba Magic the other day. Months earlier he had given away his beloved African-tuned karimba so he could put a bad relationship which had included that karimba into the past.

But he really needed to make music, and he came over to see what instrument I had that might speak to him. While we were talking, we wandered past where Sara was editing the new A minor Karimba book, with an A minor karimba next to her that she would play occasionally for reference.

Lex picked up the A minor Karimba and began plucking - and his jaw dropped. Then he smiled and laughed and said "Mysterious and enchanting!" I glanced at Sara's computer screen, but no, the computer was not open to the back cover of the eBook that declares this tuning is "Enchanting and mysterious."  

Obviously the A minor karimba is mysterious and enchanting and Lex went home with an A minor karimba that day.

Yes, Lex's new karimba was the same as the one he'd recently let go of, but in the A minor tuning, it plays quite different music. What a joy!

17 April 2019

The Kalimba and Transformation

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Humans have transformed the kalimba over millenia. The kalimba can also transform us.

The Kalimba and Transformation

The kalimbas that we play and see today seem like very modern instruments, but the kalimba is rooted in many centuries of history and tradition. As is normal for humans, we have been busy remaking the kalimba and transforming these instruments into something new. It's a process that has been going on for millenia, and people continue to transform the kalimba into something ever more amazing.

But why do all of this work, continually remaking the kalimba?

In part, because of love. Those who love the kalimba have always sought to improve upon it.

In part, because the kalimba is a tool that we, individually, can use to transform ourselves, becoming better humans.

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!

For Sale: Imitation Karimbas With Bogus Tuning

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.

14 January 2019

Tablature for "Karimba Walk"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

You can totally learn how to play this song!

Tablature for

One of my good habits is to walk about 2 miles every morning while I play kalimba. This is time by myself, with the sky above me and the earth below me. It is time with a kalimba in my hands and a song in my heart. It is an essential element of my mental, physical, and spiritual wellness.

Most mornings, I stick with one song for most or all of the walk. I find the song deepens as my walk proceeds. On good mornings, I get an entire new song. And sometimes, I record them.

"Karimba Walk" is a syncopated walking-tempo song that I play here on the Hugh Tracey African-tuned Karimba, in the style of traditional African two-phrase karimba music. And now you can totally learn to play it too!

There are so many juicy details about karimba music here - if you play African karimba, this is a "must read."

18 October 2018

Where can I find African or African-style songs for the Kalimba?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

We actually have a lot of African music for kalimbas

Where can I find African or African-style songs for the Kalimba?

Last week, someone emailed me asking: "I've looked at a lot of your music, and I cannot find the African music! Is there any actual African music for the kalimba?"

The answer is YES! Although admittedly, I do provide a lot of other types of music - Sansula music, folk tunes, Christmas songs, Elvis songs, nursery rhymes, New Age music... and it is easy to get lost. But there is plenty of African stuff here!

'Way back around 10 years ago, I was embarrassed about how little I knew about African music, and how little of it I offered at Kalimba Magic. But now, after a lot of work, learning and playing, all of that has changed, and we actually have a LOT about African music.

14 March 2018

New and Improved Downloads

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The Fastest Way to Learn to Play Kalimba

New and Improved Downloads

As you know, it's hard to resist the beauty of, and the urge to make, kalimba music; that's why you're here! Over many years I have written dozens of books to help a lot of people who want to learn to play these instruments. It's an ongoing project, as each different kalimba needs its own books, and new kalimba tunings and layouts are being invented (and not just by me) all the time. It ends up being a big part of my life's calling, because nobody else in the world is creating anything like this.

But while I am deep in the recesses of KM headquarters doing this, it gets lonely and quiet and I forget sometimes about why I spend my time at it.  So when I got this letter in the mail today, handwritten in pencil, I was thrilled to be reminded:

"Your kalimba tablature method is far superior to any numbers-based systems. Your method is the ONLY way I want to learn to play my kalimba!"

12 August 2017

Mbira as an International Character

Written by Klara Wojtkowska, Posted in News and Announcements

Is it Cultural Appropriation?

Mbira as an International Character

Editor's note: Klara is a valued contributor to the Kalimba Magic blog. She is currently spending some months in Zimbabwe developing her mbira skills, and has given us another rich, intelligent and stimulating piece; here she considers the sensitive cultural issues around her endeavor. The Bridge that Klara writes about (the Machipisa Foot Bridge in the city of Harare) was first built in 1998. Its journey from a very scary place to what it is now is discussed in the two articles linked at the bottom of this page. These articles, from local periodicals, give a rare glimpse into life in a faraway place, and it's where Klara is living and learning right now. Photos and informative video included.]  

The week that I came to Zimbabwe I was invited to perform under a bridge. The Bridge is an interesting contemporary cultural artifact; blessed by His Excellency Himself, it was built across a particularly dangerous bit of road in Highfield, the high-density suburb from which hail many of the political revolutionaries of pre-Independence days as well as the celebrated and revered musician, Oliver Mtukudzi. The Bridge swirls up from the ground on one side of the road like an artful ice cream cone, stretches its spine across the street, and then lands gracefully in a concrete pirouette on the other side. The Bridge is a testament to the human desire to make things better for ourselves.

Yes, I, a white European woman, was invited to play traditional karimba, in Zimabwe, under The Bridge...

17 June 2017

Octaves on Kalimba, Karimba, and Mbira

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Becoming conversant with octave pairs is an important part of learning your instrument

Octaves on Kalimba, Karimba, and Mbira

Do you know where the octave pairs are on your kalimba?

The octave is the most fundamental interval in essentially any music. Octave harmonies are not rich, but they are powerful. If your kalimba has eight notes or more, you likely have one or maybe even several octave pairs. Learning which note pairs are an octave apart, as well as how to use the octaves in playing, are essential to becoming a good kalimba player.

09 April 2017

Introduction to Karimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

This article explains this rich but confusing instrument

Introduction to Karimba

The first thing that is confusing about the karimba is that people assume its name is a misspelling of "kalimba."  When I say "karimba," I am referring to the traditional instrument that Andrew Tracey described as the "original mbira" from 1300 years ago. The name "karimba" can also refer to one of the new tunings we have derived from this ancient instrument.

It certainly can be confusing:  does this instrument have 8 notes, 9 notes, 13, 15, or 17 notes?  Yes to all!  What key is it tuned to?  Great question!  Let's not view these issues as problems, rather let us see them as opportunities.

14 April 2017

Meet our Karimbas - your comparison shopping Go-To page

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Sound recordings for eight different types of karimbas in a wide variety of tunings

Meet our Karimbas - your comparison shopping Go-To page

This is a companion article to the post "Introduction to Karimba" where I explain the history and kinds of karimbas in the world. This information will help you learn more about the karimbas that Kalimba Magic offers.  In this post, I provide sound files for many of our karimba models so you can hear them side-by-side.  I also provide links to the product pages in the Kalimba Magic Shop.  If you are in the market for a karimba this is the go-to place for comparing the different models by sound and also through the detailed information given about them in the Shop pages, where you will find descriptions along with discussion and video of some of the instruments being played.

05 April 2017

The "Clocks" riff from Coldplay, on Karimba and Alto

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Learn to play a kalimba version of the piano ostinato in Coldplay's "Clocks"

The

An ostinato is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice.  Almost everybody knows the piano ostinato that provides the foundation for Coldplay's compelling song "Clocks," written a decade ago.  Evocative and haunting, this song seemingly brings to life a dream world.  (Click on the link below this post to hear it.)  While I've enjoyed this song since it came out, it never occurred to me to play it on kalimba until recently at a music therapy conference.  One of the attendees started playing "Clocks" on ukelele, and I realized she was playing it in D mixolydian mode, which has the same notes as the key of G major. This is also the same key in which a lot of Hugh Tracey kalimbas are tuned.  I ran and got my Alto kalimba and immediately jumped in. 

Would you like to learn how to play the riff to "Clocks" on the kalimba?  We have tablature for both African karimba and Alto kalimba.

14 April 2017

Andrew Tracey Reviews Our Newest Karimba Book

Written by Andrew Tracey, Posted in News and Announcements

Hugh Tracey's son, Andrew, is "THE" expert on Karimba Music

Andrew Tracey, ethnomusicologist, musician, and now-retired director of ILAM (the International Library of African Music), is a noted authority on karimba and mbira. He did much research and study in the field on these two instruments. Andrew has written several seminal scholarly papers on these instruments giving us much of what we know and understand about them today. A few months back I sent him my new karimba book "About 30 Traditional African Songs for the Hugh Tracey African Karimba" and here is his thoughtful review.

"Congratulations on your work, may it spread the knowledge of one of the best-known African instruments, and may it bring many more musicians to Africa to learn to play it!"

14 November 2016

The System of the Mbira - Part 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The chords and phrase structure behind most mbira music

The System of the Mbira - Part 1

Most "primitive" music is so-called "two-phrase" music - basically a call phrase and a response phrase, or a question and an answer.  This simple musical form exists across cultures, in nursery rhymes, and in basic karimba music.

Sometime between 600 and 1000 years ago in the Zambezi Valley of southeastern Africa - let's suppose during the peak of the "Great Zimbabwe" civilization - an incredible innovation occurred: that primal two-phrase tune pattern evolved into a "four-phrase" pattern.  This innovation was momentous. Doubling the length of the original two-phrase cycle had the effect of expanding the possibilities of the music by far more than a factor of two. This four-phrase musical structure is the essence of the sound of the mbira. It is one of the pinnacles of African music, culture and intellect. 

In this post I will impart my conceptualization of an essential African musical form to you, and will start with the basic chord progression common to a lot of four-phrase mbira music. This harmonic understanding, which can be applied to any instrument, will be demonstrated on guitar in the keys of G and A.

12 December 2016

The System of the Mbira - Part 2

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

You can start at different points in the cycle to make different songs

The System of the Mbira - Part 2

Sometime between 600 and 1000 years ago in the Zambezi Valley of southeastern Africa, something amazing happened - four-phrase mbira music was born.  This revolutionized the music that had been played for a very long time, and greatly increased its sophistication, sort of like going from nursery songs to Pachelbel's Canon.

The new musical structure was complex enough to support a wide range of songs.  In fact, new songs in this vein continue to be created today. There is basically an infinite supply of mbira-type music.

In this post we begin analyzing how new songs can be created within this four-phrase system. One way is to start the song at different places in the cycle.  We show you two common places to start, and illustrate the differences in the music.

01 December 2016

New Kalimbas from Roots Production in France

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

New Kalimbas from Roots Production in France

Andrew Masters of Roots Production in France has been making kalimbas for over 20 years.  His designs are unique - they echo some rustic but refined instruments made in Africa with their handmade, very smooth tines.  In fact, these may be the sweetest tines of all to play on.

And once you play the tines, the elliptical metal sardine-can resonator body rings ever so sweetly.  Yes, these kalimbas are actually built from sardine cans!  Wow!

Kalimba Magic is very happy to carry these kalimbas, with a limited shipment planned for early 2017, and you can preorder one now.

08 November 2016

Karimba Music: Chiwoniso's Song "Chaminuka"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Free tablature for "Chaminuka," for A-17 or F-15 instruments

Karimba Music: Chiwoniso's Song

We have featured the music of the late Chiwoniso before at Kalimba Magic.  Chiwoniso was a talented and charismatic singer and karimba player (which she simply called an mbira). She was also the daughter of Dumisani Maraire (Dumi), who is credited with bringing both the marimba band movement and the karimba to America, starting around 1968.  Dumi was educated about music at the Kwanangoma School of African Music in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe). Chiwoniso grew up traveling with her father and learning African music, between Zimbabwe and Washington state.

I am happy to bring you yet another of Chiwoniso's songs - featuring her gorgeous playing and singing - in tablature for both the A-17 and F-15 karimbas - along with my analysis and speculations on this music.

What you are hearing is the video at the bottom of this article presenting the beginning of a concert given by Chiwoniso. The sound makes it a bit tricky to understand her spoken words, but she is discussing her instrument and its history, and she also introduces the song "Chaminuka", which she named after a great prophet, seer, and healer in the history of the Shona people, who foresaw the coming colonization of their land and always preached love and understanding of each others' differences. (He must have had premonitions of great violence and sadness, things that seem to have been universally experienced when a civilization was invaded and taken over by another.)

11 October 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 5 / 5

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

This traditional mbira song transfers well to karimba

TIP: Playing

"Mahororo" is usually played on the mbira dzavadzimu (commonly called the mbira), and is one of the classic songs that fit the chord progression described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal 1973 paper "The System of the Mbira" which studies in depth the ages-old mbira playing of the peoples he and his father Hugh studied for decades. This implies that "Mahororo" is probably one of those "old songs" - meaning it may be something like 500 - 800 years old.

Ivodne Galatea pointed out that it could be played on the karimba. With several arrangements of "Mahororo" under my belt, I am happy to present here the tablature for my latest and best arrangement of the song, which you can follow on YouTube.

01 October 2016

The Karimba Song "Kakaiwa" - Free Tablature and MP3

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A karimba song that echoes more complex mbira music structure

The Karimba Song

"Kukaiwa" is one of my favorite songs in our recently published "About 30 Traditional Karimba Songs" book and instructional download.  This arrangement comes to us from kalimba maven Ivodne Galatea, who mentions that CD liner notes indicate that "Kukaiwa" may be traditional, or it may be original to Dumisani Maraire. Mariaire brought the marimba band movement to the western United States in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. He may also be the man who first brought the karimba, which he called mbira nyunga nyunga, to the USA.

 

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