In addition to mbiras, X8 Drums now offers kalimbas, so we brought Joel Laviolette back to talk about this other traditional African percussion instrument. Like the mbira you saw in our last video, this kalimba was made by Joel’s instructor in Zimbabwe. A new design, this kalimba is also built in tune with the regular high-tuned mbiras.
A traditional instrument of the Shona people in Zimbabwe, kalimbas usually have only 15 keys, so they don’t have the full seven-note scale of a regular mbira and are missing a couple of the major chord tones you need to play a lot of the traditional repertoire of mbira music. However, Joel and his instructor designed and built the kalimba featured in the video and sold by X8 Drums so that they could add in those extra chord tones. They call it the "Dandaranyika" kalimba. With this new kalimba, you can play the repertoire of the regular kalimba as well as the repertoire of the bigger mbiras. This kalimba is also designed to play with every kind of mbira you can find.
Like mbiras, all kalimbas, including the ones at X8 Drums, are handbuilt. The steel rod keys are pounded and filed by hand while the soundboard is made from beautiful Mukwa wood, the original wood used to make traditional kalimbas. The kalimba featured in the video is mounted inside of a deze, which acts as an amplifier. The kalimba is mounted in by three screws so that players can easily take the kalimba out if they want.
All of our kalimbas at X8 Drums have buzzers (the bottlecaps) on the soundboard to create that distinctive buzzing sound. Kalimbas are available both inside and outside of the deze, based on your preference. However, kalimbas sold without the deze come ready to mount in a deze if you change your mind. We also have kalimbas built by another instructor of Joel’s. These kalimbas have a different style, including intricate patterns in the wooden soundboard and thinner keys with a different sound. A couple are even an octave lower than the higher kalimba but can still be played with higher kalimbas. However, all of our kalimbas have the same tuning.