Sept. 7, 2014

Vol. 9, Num. 1

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Kalimba History
Kalimba Used in 17th Century Shona Christian Mass
by Ivodne Galatea

I noticed the Kalimba Magic presentation about the history of the kalimba by Mark Holdaway (February 2012 newsletter) featured the marimba de cafri. I had never found a translation of the text that went with it (from Filippo Buonanni's Gabinetto armonico pieno d'instrumenti sonori), so I set about doing it myself, and got a rather marvellous surprise. As a Quaker, I thought Mark might also be delighted to learn that Shona Christians in Goa used the instrument to accompany them in prayer. This is the second mention of the kalimba in print, published in 1723 (the first was from Father Dos Santos, in 1586).

My translation into English, as best as I can manage, follows below:

Marimba de Cafri
Illustration from Gerhardt Kubik's book (in German) Kalimba, Nsansi, Mbira: Lamellophone in Afrika

"Three sounds relate to those used in the Southern Africa, which is part of the [Shona] Mutapa Empire some 15 degrees below the equator. The first is a sort of Marimba [...] an account of which exists by a Father of the Society of Jesus who lived for several months on the Coast, and heard repeatedly in Goa their ringing sound from African converts there, on the feast of some saint. It's amazing the dexterity with which these people (shown in the illustration) make use of the instrument in their dances.

"The instrument is in the form of a small light wooden box, 3 fingers high, about a palm and a half in length, with a rosette in the centre. At the head of this there is a bridge composed of two pieces, which join up at an angle in the centre: this then, in order that there can be held raised the ends of 7 or 9 tongues of iron, which ended in the same line as the hand of the minstrel, broadening out their ends in many tongues, which are pressed with the thumb of both their hands, shaking them to making pleasing sounds."

Imagine a 17th century saint's day mass with kalimba!

Original Latin text:

MarimbaDiCafri text 1
MarimbaDiCafri text 2

Thanks to Ivodne Galatea for this very interesting background information! Ivodne Galatea is a kalimba musician who plays and composes for all of the kalimba family, but specialises in the Hohner Guitaret.

Top of page

To sign up to receive the monthly Kalimba Magic newsletter by email,
enter your email address below:

Check out our past newsletters in
The Kalimba Magic Newsletter Archives

Discover the world of kalimbas at

Shop for kalimbas and accessories at