They say that great things come in small packages, and that may be especially true when it comes to hand held musical instruments. Hand held and hand percussion instruments are fun and fascinating, especially considering that each one represents the unique culture from which it evolved into the products we see today. In this light, the kalimba is a phenomenal example of a truly unique instrument that packs a powerful, musical punch, even as it adds a bit of whimsy and nostalgia to the songs we love.
Kalimbas are technically lamellophones, or instruments that use a metal “tongue” of sorts to produce a wide range of tones, depending on the number of tongues and the musician’s dexterity. This tension-based percussion technology may best be seen on the kalimba (also knowns as a thumb piano or mbira), but instruments like the jaw harp or or even mechanical music boxes utilize the same techniques to produce similar sounds.
The sound box of a kalimba may hold anywhere from 5 – 20 lamellas (the “tongues”), depending on the further classification of the instrument. Each version of a kalimba, whether alto, treble or celeste, differs in the number of lamellas, as well as the construction of the sound box itself, allowing for different sounds, resonance and other tonal nuances. Playing the kalimba requires the understanding of the placement of the lamellas, which is quite different from a piano and more like the keyboard on a computer or typewriter. The middle, longer keys are the deepest tones, becoming much higher as they shorten toward each side of the box.
The kalimba adds a truly unique sound to any performance or within community drumming event, and is fun for both adults and children to play. The nostalgic sound and ability to play complex melodies on the kalimba are as much of a draw as the history and origins of these quirky and fun instruments. For the novice or professional musician, a kalimba can add so much interest to any type or genre of music.
NEW Zimbabwe Kalimbas are available at X8 Drums!