Kalimba CU

Kalimba Magic NEWS
Volume 1, Number 9

December 15, 2006

In This Issue:

A New CD from Mark Holdaway

Between the Light and the Dark

Mark's New CD

"Dreamlike and magical, lyrical and poetic, Holdaway brings the ancient voice of the kalimba into a rich and exotic landscape of other instruments and touches our emotions. This music makes your soul want to dance."

- Deb Driskill of KXCI's The Breakfast Cafe

"Mark Holdaway's approach to playing kalimba is unique. His musicianship and spirit showcased on this CD are a welcome creative voice, ringing out as clearly and beatifully as the sounds of the kalimba... that draws people to it when they hear it."

- N. Scott Robinson, professional percussionist and kalimba player

Here's the title song Dark and Light

And here's a song named Where Is The Rain?

And the beautiful Morocco

Order Between the Dark and the Light today!

Where Can I Buy Hugh Tracey Kalimbas?

Retailers selling Hugh Tracey and Kalimba Magic products

Our mission is to spread the joy and excitement of the kalimba through the U.S. and the world. Initially, we have done that by writing books for most of the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas, so they are accessible to musicians and non-musicians alike. Also, we aim to get people interested by making great musical recordings as well as finding the best kalimba recordings available. The primary U.S. outlet for the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas, Kalimba Magic books and CD's has been the Kalimba Magic website.

Now that the kalimba is starting to catch on again (it caught on in a huge way in the 1960's before competitors began making largely inferior copies of these amazing instruments), we are also getting the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas placed in retail stores.

If there is a local musical instrument retailer in your area that you think might like to carry the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas and Kalimba Magic Books and CD's, please reply to this email and let us know!

Or, you might be lucky enough to live near a store that sells Hugh Tracey kalimbas and Kalimba Magic books.

View retailers that sell the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas or Kalimba Magic Books and CD's.

Interview with Laura Barrett

Toronto's New Kalimba Wonder

Laura Barrett

Photo by Alyssa Bistonath

This month's kalimba interview is with Laura Barrett.

KM: My mom always told me its not polite to ask a woman how old she is, but when I see someone young doing something amazing, I like to bring attention to this. How old are you, and how long have you been playing kalimba?

I'm 24, and I've been playing the kalimba since early 2005.

KM: I have seen clasically trained piano players try to play the kalimba or the hammered dulcimer (another instrument with a novel note layout that makes some things super easy, but makes other things difficult), and usually they realize what the note layout is, and then abandon the instrument because they feel that what they know about the piano is no longer relevant on this new instrument. However, you have taken your clasical piano understanding and translated it very well to the kalimba. Tell us about that.

LB: There are some elements of music theory that I learned formatively on piano, and I feel I can't help but bring them along when I pick up a new instrument. In tuning my kalimbas, I usually make sure to have as many fifths and doubled octaves as I can to form more robust 'chords,' and a lot of my arpeggiation reminds me of my classical piano days. But more often than not, the kalimba to me resembles an exploded, multi-dimensional keyboard, with a symmetry that a piano, or piano music, doesn't often have.

The kalimba lets a melody and its harmony dance rapidly back and forth from left to right, and it has freed me from some of the rigidity (and the right-hand bias) of piano-playing. That said, I go back and forth, trying to incorporate things learned on one instrument into playing the other. At this point, either instrument can give me an idea that might be difficult on the other, but worth exploring.

KM: Your playing seems to concentrate on one note per thumb at any time - so at most you are playing two note chords, but usually you are only playing one note at a time, yet your playing reflects a good understanding of chords. You like to play arpeggios on chords and suspensions on the chords (ie, where you make a framework of one chord, but insert some notes which don't belong in that chord to make it more interesting). What is your understanding of chords in your music?

LB: My newer songs have more simultaneous notes in them, as I've grown more familiar with the kalimba - but even the songs that don't use entire chords are still based around them. I gravitate toward patterns, sometimes realizing afterward what the 'chord' is, or needing to complete it with my voice, but each pattern has a definite tone and relationship with one another.

KM: How important is a good understanding of music theory to your playing?

LB: I guess my songs are informed by my practical and theoretical music education, but I don't set out to write anything complicated or needing expertise to enjoy. In the songs where I deliberately subvert the flow, I still return to the establishing or root chords, but while following what I hope is a unique path to get there. Theory can prevent people from trying beautiful things, so I try not to be a stickler for what is 'correct.'

KM: On the other hand, the kalimba is a really physical instrument - many people can play amazing things on it without understanding anything from music theory - at least explicitly, as they probably have their own understanding. You play very rhythmically to support your vocals. How do you see the kalimba as a body-based (rather than mind-based) instrument?

LB: Because I play with my fingernails, I have to keep them maintained in a certain way if I want to avoid metallic tapping and clacking, and in that respect I do see the kalimba as body-based, but otherwise no more than a piano is body-based. I literally 'feel out' new patterns on both instruments; it's just their configurations that differ.

KM: Which kalimbas do you have?

LB: I have three Altos (one still in diatonic G, and the only one used for Earth Sciences), and one non-Hugh Tracey, 17-note sort-of Treble. I also have two mbiras, which I just play at home.

KM: I've had a lot of kalimba sales to Ontario. Are there good places to get kalimbas there?

LB: I don't know of any local places to get kalimbas, but I purchased an mbira from a store called African Drums and Art Crafts.

[Editor's note: since conducting this interview, African Drums and Art Crafts contacted Kalimba Magic, and they should have kalimbas in stock by the time you read this article. They are located at 618 Dundas West in Toronto.]

KM: Do you find that people who hear you play want to get a kalimba for themselves?

LB: Yes, especially when I tell them how fun and easy it is to play!

KM: What different configurations do you perform in?

LB: I started out just playing kalimba and singing solo. Then, just before the new year, I joined up with my friend Richard Carnegie, who plays upright bass. Since he moved from Toronto to Saskatoon (in August of this year), I've gone back to the solo gig, sometimes using a set of Korg bass pedals to round out the songs written after the first EP (they all tend to feel a bit empty without bass).

KM: I am assuming your alt-rock band is loud - do you have any issues amplifying the kalimba?

LB: I don't play kalimba in Henri Fabergé & the Adorables (with them I play clarinet and keys), but I've been incorporating it into the Hidden Cameras' touring setup, generally only in quiet songs. We mic it with a regular vocal microphone and it works out pretty well, until things get a little louder.

KM: What do people who have never heard you before think when they first see you playing the kalimba?

LB: I'm not quite sure! Sometimes people approach me to tell me about a kalimba or similar instrument they played as a child, but I think for most people, it's their first time seeing a kalimba; since they don't know the configuration of the tines or how I've tuned it, it must be a somewhat mysterious experience.

KM: I hear in your recordings a very mature voice getting ready to burst out on the scene - I am imagining hearing you in 5 years and then looking back to Earth Science and seeing your voice blossom.

LB: I've never had any formal voice training, other than being in a few youth choirs, but I try to push my voice to sing the melodies I prefer, even if they're technically out of my range. As a result, I think I wound up with a bit of a hybrid: a plain, clear voice with a hint of operatics. We'll see where this goes as I sing more regularly. Microphones have altered the way I sing, but I couldn't tell you how, exactly.

KM: Your compositions seem to be very well thought-out, but in a way that flows very well (ie, the shifting riff in the intro to Robot Ponies). Do you improvise when you perform, or is it set material by the time you perform it?

LB: I improvise during certain sections, but it's generally set material with a little wiggle room. When playing with Richard, I don't alter the length of any sections, but we still have flexibility when it comes to what notes we play.

KM: What is coming up in the future from you?

LB: I'm putting out a second EP in early 2007 - it'll include songs with Richard on bass and a music video for Robot Ponies!

You can find out more about Laura and her music at:

Customer Review of KTabS

Greg Brown

KTabS Logo

[Editor's note: KTabS is the Kalimba Tablature Software that we've been using and enjoying for half of 2006. We've been looking for someone who we didn't know personally to step forward and provide a KTabS review. Greg Brown, not the folk singer of the same name, lives in upstate New York and was one of the first people to purchase KTabS. ]

Being new to the world of the Kalimba, as well as a novice to musical instrument playing in general, I can say I am simply amazed at this ancient instrument of paradox. Both simple and complex in it’s nature. Simple to learn, while holding a limitless capacity for both musical expression and enjoyment. Simple to learn you say? Absolutely, you see... I was born with Cerebral Palsy which affects mostly my lower body, but also has it’s drawbacks regarding my upper body, specifically fine motor coordination in the arms, hands, and fingers. And yet at the age of 50 years, I have found an instrument I can play with confidence and joy.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing is perfect, my timing in playing might be a little slower, a little bit off, compared to the average person. But the rewards are great.

The software KTabS helps me immensely in my personal learning process... Because of my CP I use KTabS to play back a piece of music to learn timing and playing speeds. I can not tap my feet well to the beats needed, so I find a timing I can physically handle at first, and work towards improvement from there. Obviously KTabS helps in hearing a piece of music as it was intended to be played. So when you are new to music and can’t tap your own foot, you still can watch each note on the computer screen as it is played.

I also find it helpful to tinker around with composing with KTabS, its quite useful when trying to learn the basics and subtleties of the Kalimba. Another benefit to using KTabS is the free "KPacks" available for download - these are groups of songs oriented to specific types of Kalimba’s. I own both the ALTO " TREBLE Kalimba’s, and am planning to purchase a Pentatonic in the near future.

KTabS overall is well worth the initial investment to anyone who wishes to learn and grow in the art of kalimba playing!

Thanks to both, Randall " Mark for such a great concept and useful learning product!

[editor notes: the original concept of KTabS comes from Sharon Eaton. Randall Eaton wrote and maintains KTabS, and Mark Holdaway provides bug reports, a wish list of new features, and glowing emails when everything works.]

To learn more about KTabS, or to purchase it, go to the KTabS Home Page.

KTabS Templates for Other Kalimbas

KTabS Logo

Most of the kalimbas I own are Hugh Tracey kalimbas, but not all! I have three other kalimbas which I also enjoy: a 9-note Cloud Nine marimbula (bass kalimba), a German made instrument called a Sansula which looks like a kalimba which got imbedded in a banjo but sounds like it was invented to play music for angels, and a ThumbFunKalimba from Oregon.

KTabS is completely configurable to match whatever kind of kalimba you have, but you need to do a bit of work to set up the configuration - and if you are not familiar with computers or KTabS, that bit of work might seem like a large barrier.

Well, consider that barrier gone. I am sharing my library of KTabS Kalimba Templates with you! These will help you write your own music in KTabS for the Hugh Tracey kalimbas and for some of the more essoteric kalimbas. And if YOU have written some templates for your favorite kalimba, why not share them with the world? Send them to me, or post them yourself on the MyKTabS web page.

Some kalimbas (Hugh Tracey Karimba, Thumb Fun Kalimbas, the Sansula, and the Cloud 9 Marimbula) have two different rows of tines, a row of shorter tines interleaved with a row of longer ones. We use the conventions that the shorter tines are shaded in KTabS, and the longer tines are white.

If you are wondering what to do with these files, just go over to KTabS and download/install the free trial version of KTabS. After you have done this, yur web browser will probably know that you can open each of these Template and Example files with KTabS, and you can just start playing these songs, or writing new songs with the templates.

New Product: The Sansula


Listen to the Sansula

The Sansula is a new age kalimba made in Germany. It looks like a kalimba and a banjo got together and made babies. The kalimba is mounted on the head of a small drum, with a larger piece of wood on the other side. There are very few existing songs that you could play on this instrument, but it makes heavenly beautiful sounds. I recommend this for New Age musicians, music therapists working with adults, story tellers working with people of all ages, therapists looking for a "magic wand", and people who just love having beauty at their fingertips. I've only got 7 of these, so if you want one, you might need to act on that.

The regular kalimbas produce the Wah-Wah sound by covering and uncovering the sound holes, but this kalimba gets its wah-wah from pointing the bottom of the drum a different way, or by pressing it down on a flat surface and then hinging one side up to let the "wah" escape.


I've got links to the sound and a short video at the Kalimba Shop.

Have you seen the Kalimba Magic Ad?

Its been running in Percussive Arts Society publications

PAS Kalimba Magic Ad

This ad was put together by my friend and web designer Susan Taunton. If you need some graphics work or web design work, I can give the highest recommendations to Susan..

The photo was taken by my friend Glen Davis. He is a great nature photographer and photographic editor, and I also recommend him highly.

The Kalimba Community

Kalimbas on Tiles

Andrew Masters is an artist/woodworker/humanitarian who makes beautiful kalimbas. You can visit his web site.

Andy Robinson has written a nice article on the Kalimba in the San Diego Troubadour.

If you have any questions, or if you have suggestions for future Newsletter Topics or Tip Of The Day ideas, please share them with me! -Mark

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