Hugh Tracey Journey and the Kalimba

Hugh Tracey
Hugh Tracey

Are you a new Kalimba player? Or been playing couple months to year now? Or just still deciding what should you buy from Different Kalimba Models now in the market? But haven’t you think who introduced this beautiful instrument to the world? If you have heard the brand Hugh Tracey Kalimba you might have an idea already who made the Kalimba popular. So who is Hugh Tracey?

Hugh Tracey’s Life

Hugh Tracey Kalimba
Hugh Tracey

Hugh Travers Tracey is a pioneer ethnomusicologist and one of the great figure in modern musicology. He was born in 1903 in Willand, Devonshire England, where he was a local farmer. After the World War 1, he immigrated (1920) to South Africa to work in his brother’s tobacco farm. The farm was located in previously called Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). During his work being a farmer with the Shona-speaking African farmer, he was amused on their style music as they sang in the fields. This was the time he was started to have more interested in sub-Saharan indigenous music. This inspiration led him to follow the tradition of European folklorists and began to record African music.

By 1934, he left farming and work with South African Broadcasting Corporation. He travelled around Center and Southern part of African, collecting musical recordings and instruments. All his works was self fund, bringing generator and a half mile cord for him to record different events (formal and informal). By 1947, established the African Music Society. He also founded International Library of African Music (ILAM) in 1954, which is now the world’s greatest repository of African music.

From 1920 up to 1977 on the day of his death, he was able to collect for about 25,000 – 35,000 musical recordings of different African ethnic groups and countries. Many from his recordings are at only remaining artifacts for the kind of music and people that was not existing anymore. He was have the collections of books, instruments and other artifacts of the places he went to.

In 1969, Andrew Tracey (son) joined him in research and has already added his first field recordings to the collection. He continued the legacy of his father and became the director of ILAM.


Tracey encountered a lot of African instrument, but he was particularly interested with mbira. Mbira is the national instrument of Zimbabwe. This was one of the instrument of Shona people for 100 years. For over 100 prototypes, it was the Kalimba that stood out for him and be shown to the world. It was tuned to the diatonic western scale and left and right alternating note layout so that he people can easily embraced it. Even with this tuning he can still play African song and now even the Western song. As same year the ILAM is founded, he also established the African Musical Instruments (AMI). This company was the first to manufacture Kalimba. This also helps Tracey to fund his tours and needs to accomplish everything. The company is still manufacturing up to know with different kinds of African Instruments made by the finest African craftsman.

As of now, Kalimba was spread all around the world. The international tuning was set to Standard C Major, though Hugh Tracey’s Kalimba was originally tuned in G Major. It was also being called with different names like hand piano and thumb piano. The word Kalimba is literally translated as “little music”.

We have added the sources below if you want to know more about him and all of his achievements. There are lots more about him and his recordings that the world needs to know. His lifeworks and contributions to the African community is quite large to be discuss in one article alone.