Banner 610

What are the 5 makes of kalimba that I can purchase from Kalimba Magic?

Hugh Tracey Kalimbas

Hugh Tracey kalimbas were the first kalimbas to be exported from Africa in the late 1950s. Hugh Tracey was a life-long lover of African music, and he devoted tens of thousands of hours to recording and documenting traditional African music south of the Saharan Desert and all the way to South Africa.

Tracey founded the International Library of African Music (ILAM) after he had been doing ethnomusicology work for decades and was in desperate need of a way to keep instruments, recordings, notes and research results organized and accessible both to himself and the rest of the world. That same year (1954) he started AMI, or African Musical Instruments, in order to help fund the building that would house everything that ILAM contained. He had long thought that spreading the kalimba outside of Africa was a great idea. Tracey began to build experimental kalimbas that melded various features of the African instruments he had found in his work, and gave these kalimbas notes tuned to the western diatonic scale with a strictly alternating note layout to facilitate western harmonies. He made over 100 prototype instruments before he settled on designs for the Treble, Alto, and Celeste Treble kalimbas. These are the kalimbas which started the world-wide kalimba craze of the 1960s and 1970s, and that competitors all around the world have imitated.

The box-mounted kalimbas have a sound hole in the front and two smaller sound holes in the back. The placement of these holes was a long-standing feature of traditional African instruments, and was adjusted by Hugh Tracey on his kalimbas. You can achieve a "wah-wah" effect by covering and uncovering these holes while playing. I like to refer to this electronic-sounding effect as "thousand-year-old African technology".
These kalimbas are still made in South Africa today from African kiaat, a resonant hardwood which was used traditionally for the Shona mbira. While the basic design of the kalimbas has changed very little since Hugh Tracey sent his trio of kalimbas to the patent office, AMI continues both to design new kalimba instruments, and to add advances, such as an optional electronic pickup.
Most of the instructional materials Kalimba Magic has produced are designed for the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas, and there is a a Kalimba Magic instructional book for almost every Hugh Tracey Kalimba.

Shop for Hugh Tracey Kalimbas

Hokema Kalimbas

The Hokema kalimbas are physically delightful to play - their tines are soft and their tones magical. Made in Germany by Peter Hokema, these kalimbas look and feel like their German engineers did everything right. I would recommend any of these kalimbas to beginners because they all make really beautiful music without much understanding or investment of time and effort. This is a lovely attribute...but there is a down side. These instruments are generally not capable of playing very many different songs. Not a bad thing for some folks; you could play sweet lullaby music to your kids in no time, for example.

The sansula is the invention that got Hokema making kalimbas. It has a little kalimba mounted on a frame drum. The kalimba is based on the traditional African karimba, but is tuned to the Japanese Ake Bono scale (in A minor). Don't beat on the frame drum - you will break it! Rather, play a note and then lift the frame drum up and put it back down on a flat surface to hear the "wah-wah" sound. Beautiful and unique.

Shop for Sansulas & Hokemas

Catania Kalimbas

Catania kalimbas, made in Pennsylvania, are one of the best values around. They come in 6, 8 and 12-Note varieties, board mounted and gourd mounted. The gourd kalimbas have a sound-hole in the front and two small sound-holes on the sides. Catania's workmanship is flawless on both board and gourd mounted kalimbas, and the woods are beautiful.

I recommend the Catania kalimbas to anyone who isn't sure if they want to get into the kalimba. Catania kalimbas might be considered "gateway" kalimbas - not hard to get your head around, and they make nice sounds. The prices won't break the bank and the quality is high. I know several adults and even more children who started out on the Catania 8-note kalimbas and went on to the Catania 12-Note or the Hugh Tracey kalimbas. I still use Catania kalimbas in performances.

The 8-Note kalimbas are great for group instruction for kids. In fact, the Catania kalimbas are probably the most rugged kalimbas Kalimba Magic sells. They can be dropped on the floor and they usually won't go out of tune. They can be thrown at a wall and with about a minute's worth of attention, are usually 'good to go' for round 2. While I don't recommend dropping or throwing kalimbas, these sorts of abuse will eventually happen if you work with kids long enough, and the Catanias will stand up to that abuse.

Shop for Catania Kalimbas

Goshen Kalimbas

Goshen Kalimbas are another of the great American Kalimbas. They offer beautiful, high quality wood work, a good kalimba sound, and they are very reasonably priced. In addition, they have a couple of fairly exotic models - the double bridge Goshen kalimba and the Mate kalimba, made for two people to play.

The Goshen does come with a caveat - the tines are very small and the attachment mechanism is not that strong. While the Goshens stand up fine to normal playing and normal stresses, they must be babied a bit. If children play roughly with the Goshen kalimbas, the tines can be pulled out of place or even straight off the instrument. If you pack a Goshen in your backpack, be careful that the tines do not get caught when you remove the kalimba. So, while they are really fine instruments, beautiful and good sounding, you just need to be careful with them. They will reward you with a fine kalimba experience.

That said, Goshen Kalimbas have some of the silkiest tines, and to play them is lovely. Add the exquisite experience of holding the carefully shaped, beautiful body, and you have a winning combination. I have a number of Goshens among my personal kalimbas - they are sweet, intimate instruments.

Shop for Goshen Kalimbas

"2B" Kalimbas

The "2B" kalimbas are perhaps the most mysterious and mystical kalimbas I have seen. Twenty years ago, Thomas Bothe spent about a year traveling around the Far East, and when he returned to Germany, he was a changed man. He started to make musical instruments, and the instruments that people loved the most were his kalimbas. Now his work is better than ever. His kalimbas are charming and wonderful, tiny meditation companions. A pure delight, clever and well made with an innovative design.

Note: the 2B kalimbas are totally out of stock. Unfortunately, Thomas Bothe has had severe allergic reactions to the woods he has been using, and he is attempting to have other people do the woodwork while he builds the kalimbas, but at this point things are uncertain. Please hold this master in the Light, for his creations are unique in the world.

Finely crafted but pricey, the 2B kalimbas make fine gifts. But most people purchase them for themselves. Here is a quote from a man who has bought over a dozen kalimbas from us:

Rejoice on another matter: I just got the last of your padauk 2B/9 in the mail. The sweetest little thing in the world of kalimbas! So small, but so powerful a sound when used with the resonator. I totally love the Bothe kalimbas and still would like to have his 2B9B, especially if he would make me one of padauk or kiaat wood. I respect and admire his artistry. I also wish him the best of health and hope that he will continue to produce wonderful instruments for a long time to come.
- Bela, 2015

Shop for 2B Kalimbas


If you have any questions, feel free to contact us via the email form, or speak directly to Mark Holdaway at 520-488-7641.

Contact Us