Are Kalimba and Mbira the same? Ultimate answer

different between Mbira and kalimba
Mbira an Kalimba

Kalimba and Mbira are very popular traditional music instruments in Africa. They have been used in several traditional functions and ceremonies- marriage ceremonies, cultural festivals, funeral ceremonies, etc.

These two instruments are now very popular in different parts of the world because it has been featured in movies and music.  For example, On May 21, 2020 mbira was featured in Google doodle

Of course, I have already covered a lot about Kalimba and explained almost everything you need to know about it.

What I have come to realize is Mbira and Kalimba are the names of musical instruments used interchangeably as a result most people confuse Kalimba with Mbira or they think Kalimba and Mbira are the same things.

This post will help you to clear that confusion and gives you a clear picture of Mbira and Kalimba.  Here I will pinpoint the basic similarities and differences between Mbira and Kalimba.

NB: this post is not suitable for who does not know Mbira or Kalimba at all. This is for those who know the two but they want to know how they relate to each other.

Similarities between Kalimba and Mbira

The following are the common similarities between Mbira and Kalimba; these similarities are the one which makes people confused about these two tools

Both are wooden instruments

Kalimba and Mbira are musical instruments made by a wood that consists of steels where the player has to hold and realize to create the rhythm.

Both are played with the same style

These two instruments are played when a player holds them by both hands like he/she holds the Smartphone. The key fingers which play these instruments are thumb fingers, that’s why they are called ‘thumb piano’

Both are originated from Zimbabwe

Mbira and Kalimba are both originate from Shona people in Zimbabwe and it has been used there for different traditional events.

Difference between Kalimba and Mbira

The following difference will help you to understand between the two and helps you to choose which one to by or learn playing.


Mbira has double row keys while Kalimba has only one-row keys.


According to, the Kalimba features the seven-note diatonic scale used in traditional Western music while the non-western scale of the Mbira features the same notes but not in the same order. Some notes may even be missing. Because of the kalimba’s diatonic scale, every two-note combination creates a diatonic interval, making it easy to create harmonies.


In fact, Kalimba is smaller than Mbira which is commonly known as Kalimba is a small version of Mbira.

Generally, I can say that the history of Mbira and Kalimba is almost the same. Technically what started was Mbira. Kalimba was emerged as the modernization of Mbira by Hugh Tracey.

And that’s why Kalimba is much known internationally than Mbira after being commercially produced and exported internationally by Hugh Tracey.


My task here was to show you whether Kalimba and Mbira are the same. The bottom line is although Mbira and Kalimba have been used to refer the same thing, these instruments are not the same.

  • Mbira has double row keys while Kalimba has only one-row keys.
  • Mbira’s note scale is different from Kalimbas’
  • Kalimba is small version of Mbira
  • Finally, Kalimba has emerged as the modernization of Mbira

Hope you have found this post useful; kindly share it with others to spread the knowledge.

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