Articles tagged with: Traditional African Music

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.

27 November 2016

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 1

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

familiarity with octave and fifth intervals gives the basic foundation for playing traditional mbira music on the Alto kalimba

Alto Exercises to Expand Your Skills, Part 1

African mbira music is tremendously compelling to me, and I had been working to translate it onto the more accessible Hugh Tracey Alto and Treble kalimbas for months but feeling quite frustrated.  I could not find my intuitive wisdom with this traditional music. When it came, the realization was like the sun coming up after a long dark night, and suddenly shining bright on the mountains. The issue was... intervals!  (You can hear two wonderful mbira songs right now by clicking in Related Articles below, on "Listen to Mark..." or the YouTube song below it.)

Basically, the distance between any two notes is called an interval. Most western music is based on small intervals, such as the 2nd and 3rd, while much of African music is based on larger intervals, such as the 8th (octave) and the 5th. I had just realized that my western training needed to get out of the way just a little bit, so a different way of seeing music could bloom. In this post we discuss intervals and give some simple exercises to help you get a solid footing with these building blocks of all music, and especially of mbira music.

 

14 November 2016

"Taireva" Tablature for Mbira and C Alto Kalimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Learning this song on Alto Kalimba has put me into "Beginner's Mind"

Have you ever read the book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"?  The basic idea is that we can make great progress on our journey by approaching everything with an open, beginner's mind, for it is in this state that we are ready to be taught, we are ready to see, and we are ready to understand.  The expert who already knows everything might not ever see the truth.

While I like to think of myself as a kalimba expert, I do get knocked on my (musical) butt quite often.  So really, I am only an expert at playing in the fairly narrow musical style that I know how to play. 

For me, to learn mbira music on the kalimba is a leveling experience.  The thumb patterns required to play this music on kalimba are so foreign that I have been brought down to the level of "total beginner."

11 November 2016

The Topsy-Turvy World of Mbira Music

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

A close look at the inner workings of the mbira song "Taireva" reveals remarkable and quirky details

The Topsy-Turvy World of Mbira Music

Mbira music is elusive. You think you understand it, you reach to grasp it, but then it slips through your fingers.

There are in truth many ways to understand mbira music - and you learn to strive to come to the place where you touch all of those understandings without holding any.

In another blog post, I give away the tablature for the song "Taireva," for both mbira and C Alto kalimba.   In this post I detail some of the more subtle aspects of traditional mbira music, using "Taireva" to help in the analysis.  I show you new ways to think about mbira music that will help you play it with that magical feeling of dancing in between one way and another.

Also, the level of detail in the traditional music of the mbira is actually pretty inspiring.  That Africans were doing this stuff many centuries ago really speaks to the genius of the ancient African mind.

08 November 2016

Mbira Song "Chaminuka"

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

New tablature for mbira dzavadzimu, plus tabs for Hugh Tracey Alto and B flat Treble Kalimbas

Mbira Song

Chaminuka was a real person, a renowned Zimbabwean prophet who foretold the coming of white European colonialists.  After his death, he became a popular ancestral spirit to channel.  Mbira dzavadzimu were and still are used in these ceremonies.

While researching Chaminuka for the Chiwoniso article, I learned that there are at least two totally different songs by this name: "Chaminuka" for the karimba by Chiwoniso, and an unrelated song for the mbira dzavadzimu.  The mbira "Chaminuka" is the classic pattern described by Andrew Tracey in his seminal work "The System of the Mbira."  I have notated it in my new (and evolving) mbira tablature, and you can also play it on the Bb Treble kalimba and the Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba.  I supply all three of these tablatures to you for free!

07 October 2016

"Vitamin K" and Falling in Love with the African tuned karimba

Written by Leslee Morrison, Posted in News and Announcements

Learning tablature, and a new book, opened up the exciting and beautiful world of traditional African songs. By leslee morrison

For me, learning the African tuned karimba with its repertoire of ancient African music is an  infusion of new excitement and inspiration in my playing. I call it "Vitamin K". The instructions that came along with my new Hugh Tracey 17-note karimba said that it is a beginner's instrument; but with 17 tines instead of the 11 that I was familiar with, and with the additional “buzzers,” I discovered that a lot of new and exciting sound can come out of the karimba, far beyond what I experienced with my other kalimbas.

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.

 

04 October 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 4 / 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.

27 September 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 3 / 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.

 

29 September 2016

Free Tablature! Alto and Pentatonic Kalimba Kushaura and Kutsinhira

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Following the lead of traditional mbira music works great on modern day kalimbas too!

Free Tablature!  Alto and Pentatonic Kalimba Kushaura and Kutsinhira

How do you play two kalimbas together?  There is no particular tradition for doing that, but there is a deep, wide, and wild tradition of playing two mbira dzavadzimu together - one plays the kushaura part (the leading part) and the other plays the kutsinhira part (the following part).  Often the same high notes are played in the two parts, but the kutsinhira part's high notes will echo the kushaura part's high notes.  If a particular high note is repeated in the first part, the second part will often insert the same high note in between the repeated notes of the first part - that is, one part plays in the gaps of the other.  The resulting music sounds like you are trilling that note twice as fast as a single player should be able to play it.  

So, the next logical step is to apply this method of joining two mbiras together to the Hugh Tracey kalimbas . 

16 September 2016

Practice TIP: Experiment with Changing Volume Levels

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Playing strong can help you learn; playing softly can help you discover the "feel" of the music

Practice TIP:  Experiment with Changing Volume Levels

Don't you hate all those internet ads that start with "Try this one weird trick" and then promise that if you do, it will change your life in a profound way?

Well, I have something for you that may seem like a weird trick, but it is really a great little tool that indeed has had a profound effect on my own kalimba, karimba, and mbira playing.

People tend to play kalimba music with every note at the same volume level.  But I can point to three big benefits you can get from changing up the volume level in your kalimba playing. 

20 September 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 2 / 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.

13 September 2016

TIP: Playing "Mahororo" on the African Karimba - 1 / 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.

28 July 2016

Hugh Tracey's Field Recordings from Africa are Alive and Well at ILAM

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

The man who created the modern kalimba movement also worked to preserve traditional African music

While Hugh Tracey is best known for the Hugh Tracey kalimba, I believe his most important work was the assemblage of 35,000 field recordings he made through the 1930s, '40s, and '50s of traditional music across sub-Saharan Africa.

These recordings captured music across Africa just before much of the traditional music was eclipsed and even erased by modern European influences such as the western scale, choral church music, and western popular music, which were propagated by radio and recordings. 

Today, Tracey's historical recordings are alive and well and accessible. Anyone can listen to them. Their story follows, as well as how they are being brought to life in our time.

24 May 2016

What's New at Kalimba Magic and the Kalimba World?

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in News and Announcements

Think globally and skype with us - act locally and learn with us

What's New at Kalimba Magic and the Kalimba World?

I've been playing with statistics lately, and I've learned some interesting things. Kalimba Magic has a huge international foot print.  Last month, about 50% of our sales went overseas.  We shipped to Japan, China, Australia, Europe, South America, and even to that friendly country to the north - Canada.  But we have been almost invisible in my own hometown of Tucson; and less than one half of one percent of all my kalimba sales are to people here in Arizona.

I am working to change that.  I am reaching out to my neighbors, friends, and community here in Tucson, as well as farther out across the world.  I am doing what I can to spread the word about the kalimba, not just over the internet, but from one heart to another.  I invite you to read about how I am reaching out to both the local and the international kalimba communities.

07 August 2016

TIP: Playing the African Karimba - "Kuzanga"!

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Here is the mbira song "Kuzanga," translated onto the karimba - get the tablature for free!

TIP: Playing the African Karimba -

I have been learning to play "Kuzanga" on the mbira, a 24-note traditional African lamellaphone that in my mind represents one of the pinnacles of ancient African ingenuity and art. 

I realized earlier today: it should be possible to play "Kuzanga" on the African karimba - and it is!  Included here, for your benefit, is tablature of "Kuzanga" for the karimba, for free!  Enjoy.

06 August 2016

TIP: Playing the Alto Kalimba - "Kuzanga"!

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

Free tablature for the mbira song "Kuzanga," translated to Alto kalimba!

TIP: Playing the Alto Kalimba -

"Kuzanga" is a song for the mbira dzavadzimu, or mbira.  I've been working on this song for about an hour a day on the mbira now for about six weeks, and even though I have a long way to go, I can still feel myself getting better each day - what a wonderful feeling.

I have not yet started to learn this song on the Alto kalimba, but I realized that several of the variations could be played on the Alto. So, I translated the song to Alto kalimba.

05 August 2016

TIP: Playing the Student Karimba

Written by Mark Holdaway, Posted in Tips

This is the instrument Andrew Tracey calls "The Original Mbira"

TIP: Playing the Student Karimba

If you are a beginning kalimba player who wants to play western music, the 8-Note kalimba is a great place to start. But if you want to play African music, I would recommend you get the Student karimba.

The Student karimba is an 8-note or 9-note instrument that attempts to reconstruct what Andrew Tracey believes was a common instrument over 1000 years ago.  He argues that this instrument gave rise to several other well known traditional instruments, such as the mbira dzavadzimu and the karimba.  As such, there are lots of traditional African songs you can play on this instrument.  Kalimba Magic has two books that work with it.  The Student karimba is a great introduction to the full-sized African karimba.