What is Kalimba?

What is Kalimba?
What is Kalimba?

Short Kalimba History

The kalimba is an instrument from the family of idiophone instruments; of African origins, from the Shona region (Zimbabwe) it is also known as Mbira, Sansa, and it was introduced into the Western world by Hugh Tracey in 1920; the Kalimba is a modernized version of the Mbira and its evolution is a faithful reflection of the culture and essence of the regions where it has been played.

Also known as a thumb-piano, it can be played by holding it with both hands using the thumbs (like a smartphone). Previously, it was made with sheets made of wood or bamboo, but over time its development led it to perfection by using metal sheets that were later adopted.

There are other use of kalimba beforehand, like a tool used by ancient tribal leaders in wars to communicate. It was also for ritual events to attract rains during droughts or to stop them in times of flooding. Another thing is for the deceased to help their spirit to rest in peace and drive away evil spirits. And of course, to heal the sick.

With the discovery of the Musicologist Hugh Tracey in one of his trips to Africa the Mbira underwent remodeling. Kalimba was made to adapt to Western style but retain its totality. Tracey also took charge of its dissemination in various parts of the world.

A few years later, Zimbabwe, during its colonial period, would go through a dark phase. In which the instrument lost popularity due to a campaign promoted by missionaries who preached its supposed evil essence. Zimbabwe, after independence, they started to distribute the Kalimba in the Western world again. And the instrument keeps exponentially recovering its popularity.

A Little Description

You can slide your thumb, press it or pluck the key to play it. They will produce a bad sound and without clarity if pressed too hard. If touched with fingernails, they sound clearer, but still depends on the player.

As for the execution, you can play making a defined melody or with a pleasant rhythm together. It is, indeed, an entertaining instrument that could be used for meditation. Due to it has compact and personal construction, the most modern and professional ones even have inputs for amplification.

The tuning of Kalimba is by interspersed notes, and on different scales, usually diatonic and pentatonic scales. Most Kalimba are tunes in International tuning of Standard C Major scale. The keys are arranged in an arpeggio shape. The chords are also possible when sliding the keys.

Types of Kalimba

Hollow Box
Flat Board

Types of Kalimba: There are versions of the instrument that you can add resonators to add a touch of percussion. Depending on its organology, each Kalimba type has a specific way of being played, and the pressure may vary.

Flat Board: a Kalimba made of flat solid wood with no holes. It can be play by resting on a flat surface so the vibrations are transmitted through and increase its resonance.

Box or Hollow: a kalimba built with a resonance box that has a circular hole. It is similar to that of an acoustic guitar on effects. And it can be partially cover with the thumb, giving a distortion effect known as wah-wah.

Acrylic : a Kalimba which use an acrylic type of glass and its transparent. The full body is same as the Board type kalimba without any hole.

There are a lot more regarding the Kalimba. But we make it short since we just want you to have an idea. If you found some inconsistent data, kindly comment here or message us. Happy playing everyone!