Kalimba CU

Kalimba Magic NEWS
Volume 1, Number 5

Aug 22, 2006

In This Issue:

Kalimba Magic is asking for YOU to help us

I think Kalimba Magic is, hands down, the best kalimba web site out there. We offer unique kalimba instructional materials and books; we sell the complete line of Hugh Tracey Kalimbas; we are beginning to feature the work of prominent kalimba players from around the world; we have five great "Tips of the Day" series to help you improve your kalimba playing and to inspire you to new heights.

However, the world at large, as gauged by the Web Search Engines, does not see things the way I do. If YOU think that Kalimba Magic should have a more prominent place, I would ask you to do three simple things:

Thank you!
- Mark Holdaway

Karimba Book is Available

Karimba Book Cover

It is FINALLY here! Playing the Hugh Tracey Karimba, 42 pages of great tablature, 45 exercises, and accompanying CD.

If you don't know the difference between the karimba and the kalimba, the kalimba is an instrument with roots in traditional African instruments with an invented note layout (thank you, Dr. Tracey!) and a purely western scale. The karimba has a traditional note layout, a traditional African scale, but is made in a modern workshop with high quality materials. It is closely related to the mbira, but the note layout for the karimba is almost certainly much older than that of the mbira.

I bought a pretty good quality mbira about 6 years ago, and they are very finicky instruments. They are very hard to tune and hard to keep sounding good. The Hugh Tracey Karimba doesn't look like a rustic instrument, but like a modern instrument. It is easy to tune and easy to keep sounding good.

So, if you are looking for an instrument that can connect you with ancient African traditions but is also easy to play and can make truly beautiful, surprisingly complex, and wonderfully peaceful music, the Hugh Tracey Karimba is the instrument for you.

In the Karimba Book, Mark has explored the structure of the karimba and infers things about African music based on the layout of the notes. African music co-evolved with the karimba. The karimba was designed to be easy to make African music on, and the karimba's note layout probably influenced African music too. So, by playing what comes easily and naturally on the karimba, you are standing firmly in the tradition of African music.

View a Page from the Karimba Book

Listen to Karimba Exercise #28

Listen to a Karimba Exercise #37

The Karimba Book is now available for purchase from The Kalimba Shop


Interview with Christian Carver

Director of African Musical Instruments (AMI)

Christian Carver

Kalimba Magic is starting a monthly interview with people who are important to the kalimba world. We are pleased to have our first interview be with Christian Carver, the director of African Musical Instruments, the maker of the Hugh Tracey Kalimba in Grahamstown, South Africa.

KM: Christian, how were you introduced to the kalimba?
CC: Andrew Tracey [Hugh Tracey's son] has always had a Steelband running, drawing on the student talent from the local university and from keen non-students. In about 1981 I joined the band after hanging around stage doors and begging to be auditioned for about 2 years. Some of the material that was played came from the show "Wait a Minum" that Andrew and Paul Tracey had written, and it included the kalimba in the arrangements. I had known about kalimbas, but the band gave me the challenge to learn more complex stuff, and I bought my own alto about then. I also started learning the Mbira dza Vadzimu around that time. Subsequently I left South Africa, worked in the UK and Uganda, before being invited back by Andrew to come and run AMI.

KM: Did you know Hugh Tracey?
CC: No. Hugh died in 1973. By the time I joined AMI in 1988, Heather Tracey, Andrews wife, had been running the company for about 17 years. However, I feel I know something of the man, as I have been inspired by his passion for the preservation and promotion of African music and for pursuing ways of making its values relevant in modern life. I also feel like I understand many of his design decisions in the way he developed the kalimba.

KM: Tell me about some of those design decisions Hugh Tracey made.
CC: First off, he didn't try to reinvent the wheel. There are a family of traditional kalimbas that are the same shape, but are constructed out of one solid piece of wood, the soundbox being hollowed out from one endand then later the resulting hole covered with a single piece of wood. They also have one and sometimes 2 tone holes for vibrato. The trapezoid shape is both comfortable to hold, and has efficient accoustic properties, redirecting the air vibration back twoards the sound hole.

Secondly he also used the traditional wood, KIAAT or MUKWA as it is know in Zimbabwe. The tonal qualities of this wood have been known for ever in Africa. The use of this wood I believe is largely responsible for giving our instruments the edge over competion when it comes to tone and sound.

We have also found that if we try to change any of the thicknesses of the parts, that the instruments sound deteriorates. I have a number of prototypes from when Hugh Tracey was designing the kalimbas - everything from a full metal bodied kalimba with an aluminium soundboard through to some very dinky small kalimbas with wound wire tines - and Andrew quotes a number of three hundred experiments before Hugh was satisfied with the final design. I truly respect that!

KM: When did AMI start up? Did AMI start out making just kalimbas?
CC: The company registration was in 1955. Hugh Tracey had been introduced to African Music through the Shona tradition in Zimbabwe and had always wanted to produce a western adaptation of traditional kalimbas. Kalimbas were initially produced and sold to provide funding for his bigger mission - to record all the music of Africa. When donated funding dried up, due to various factors such as the logistical complexity of the project and political pressure, Kalimba sales became the main funding source. Initially only 3 models were made - the Box resonated Alto and Treble, and the Treble tuned, board-based celeste. I still have the case with the original models which were used for the patent application in my office. Hugh pioneered these instruments to the rest of the world, as ambassadors for African music and African ingenuity, and they have been copied ever since. Due to our products, the word "KALIMBA" has fallen into every day use around the world.

KM: What is the relationship between the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas and more traditional kalimbas out there?
CC: The fact that our instruments are retunable to anything that you want means that traditional players can and do adapt them for their own use. We obviously also produce the KARIMBA, which is an introduction into music in the Zimbabwe region. I would like to produce a version of the [Shona] Mbira Dza Vadzimu at some stage, because it is truly such a great instrument, it's music is alive and well, and there is a great demand for good instruments.

KM: The traditional range of the kalimba family of instruments extended over most of Sub-Saharan Africa, but not as far south as Grahamstown, South Africa, where AMI makes the Hugh Tracey Kalimba. Whats up with that?
CC: Andrew moved the International Library of African Music [ILAM, founded by Hugh Tracey in 1954] to Grahamstown from Krugersdorp (near Johannesburg) in 1979. Rhodes University here agreed to host and fund the archive and a decision was taken to move the factory from there as well. Heather Tracey was directing the company by then and it suited their needs to move it here. The fact is that we do not sell many kalimbas to Africans. Interestingly it is often African musicians who live and work outside of Africa who discover us and begin to include kalimbas in their music. This is an important reason why we have not permanently fixed the notes in one tuning, as this allows players to adapt the instruments to their own musical traditions, scales and layouts. I think that many Africans have discounted and devalued their own music and cultures and bought into western influences. However, with the west placing high value on genuine African Music, Africans are starting to take note, and we are beginning to see a groundswell of interest starting - a renaissance, if you like.

KM: The focus at AMI has grown to include marimbas and other percussion instruments. Tell me about that.
CC: During the 1970s, when international sanctions against the Apartheid regime drastically reduced kalimba sales, a decision was taken to look for gaps in the local musical instrument markets. Arising out of this was a range of teaching Xylophones, closely followed by further adaptations of traditional African xylophones and drums. Most recently we have begun producing ensemble marimbas. Once again, these are a Tracey legacy to the world. Andrew was involved in the conception of these instruments in the 1960s, and they have now spread around the globe. Fatefully, the production of the original versions of these instruments returned to Andrew's factory, and they now account for around half our earnings. The ensemble marimbas played up the west coast of the US, in Australia and in other parts of the world are all related to our instruments.

KM: The Hugh Tracey Kalimba was the first kalimba to be sold commercially, and is widely regarded as the best kalimba commercially available. Yet, most kalimbas are now made outside of Africa. Whats going on here?
CC: As I said earlier, kalimbas, once they reached other markets were almost immediately copied. Arguably the kalimba could have been protected at the time by worldwide patents, but my take on that situation was that Hugh and Andrew have felt that in all good conscience they could not claim intellectual property rights to an African invention, or indeed the kalimba name. Hugh was deeply concerned about the western exploitation of African musical intellectual property, and Andrew has stood as an expert witness in many cases of claims against exploiters of African musicians. Coupled with this is what I was talking about earlier - Africans are not yet interested enough in their distant culture. There is also the problem that in the years that South Africa was under sanctions, many kalimba makers sprang up outside of Africa to fill the gap.

KM: Who are your favorite kalimba players using the Hugh Tracey Kalimbas? Do you have any favorites who use other kalimbas?
CC: The player who completely blows me away is DECIO GiIOIELLI from Sau Paulo in Brazil. Decio is a multi-instrumentalist who plays kalimba in a very Brazillian way. The cyclical patterns that he plays are very African in many ways, but the music is rooted in Samba and Brazil. He has produced many CDs using kalimbas, including one aimed at children which is beautiful.
A Ugandan, living in Canada, ACHILLA ORRU is also a brilliant player. He is definitely rooted in his traditions, and plays both our kalimbas, and some traditional ones. He often retunes our instruments.
VALANGA KHOZA is a South African musician living in Australia also uses Kalimba extensively, often playing cyclical riffs on our western tuned kalimbas in a very African way.
PAUL TRACEY is a very meticulous player, who uses the expressional abilities of the instrument to it fullest extent. He mostly plays western folk tunes or his own music-hall style songs.
And of course there is MARK HOLDAWAY. When I first heard you play, on a downloaded clip from your site, I thought "Yes! This is what I have been hoping for. At last, a kalimba being used in a mainstream folk setting, combining with regular instruments, and being played uber-skillfully. People are really going to dig this!" And obviously they do!
KM: Thank you, you have given me some good leads on future interviews!

KM: Which kalimbas do you own?
CC: I have an example of each of the instruments that we produce, obviously, plus I have a couple of Dza Vadzimus - one western tuned and the other with a more traditional tuning. I have a touristy kalimba made from a tortoise shell, which was given to me by some well-meaning person. I feel sorry for the tortoise! I have also tried making a few Karimbas in the traditional way, and it takes a huge amount of work to beat out the notes from steel nails!
KM: Ah, this makes me so thankful for AMI doing the work!

KM: What do you see the future of the Hugh Tracey Kalimba to be?
CC: I would like to keep up the development process. With the introduction of models with pickups, we are obviously trying to serve the market that needs to go electric. I would like to develop premium versions of this concept. An 8-note single octave instrument is under development at the moment. I still have a lot of experimentation to do with note layouts, and note ranges, and hope to introduce models based on that. I am always being asked about Chromatic kalimbas, and have spent large amounts of time trying to figure out a note arrangement that would work. I have not yet been able to figure out a way around the simple system that Hugh Tracey developed of avoiding clashing notes being placed next to each other.

KM: Thank you very much, Christian, it has been a pleasure!

Next month, I'll will chat with multi-instrumentalist kalimba player Andy Robinson who will address that need to "go electric". I also look forward to interviewing a lot of great kalimba players out there.


Contest: Short Kalimba Looping Riff on Tablature

Blank Tablature

In African music, people loop through a riff, repeating it over and over again. The musicians and the listeners can enter a peaceful trance-like state, similar to repeating a chant over and over again. I am looking for short riffs (2-8 measures long) that work as a loop (well, you can loop most anything).

To enter this month's contest, you can either write out your song on hard copy tablature or in KtabS (Kalimba Tablature Software). To do the hard copy, print out the appropriate blank tablature, write your riff out, and then scan it and email it to contest@kalimbamagic.com, or mail a hard copy to Kalimba Contest, PO Box 42374, Tucson AZ 85733. If you have KTabS, email us a .ktb file of your loop to contest@kalimbamagic.com. Entries must be received by September 6 2006.

The winners of last months contest are Eric Zang and Jim Gates. Their tunings will be featured as Advanced Tips of the Day, each will receive a copy of the Kalimba Tunings book (which, realistically, won't be done untill after Christmas), and a $10 cash award or $20's off of their next Kalimba Magic purchase.

Next month's contest: Cool effects you use on your kalimba: submit an MP3 and a short description of what effects processor and which settings you use.


The Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba with Pickup is Back In Stock

Alto Kalimba

We just can't keep the ">Alto Hugh Tracey Kalimba with Pickup in stock! Fortunately, they are back... for now! We also have lots of Treble Kalimbas with Pickups. Why don't you pick one up before they are gone again?


Tip of the Day

Kalimba Tips

The Tip of the Day column on the Kalimba Magic web site is going strong. But who can remember to check up on the Tip every single day? Now, you can sign up to have the Tip "headlines" and links to the Tips delievered to your inbox at the end of each week. Email me if you would like the Tips emailed to you each week.

Tip of the Day Home Page

If you would like to suggest a Tip for one of these topics, send me an email!


Whats New with KTabS, the Kalimba Tablature Software?

A lot of you went on over to check out KTabS after reading the article in the newsletter last month. Here is what is going on with KTabS and Kalimba Magic:

The Kalimba Community

There are a lot of kalimba players that I would like to call attention to on the Kalimba Community page - unfortunately, there are more folks I need to get on the pages (next month?), so if you were hoping your photo would be there, just give me a nudge by email. I also need to post some more music there as well. I see this page growing into a place where you can discover unique and innovatove players from around the world!


All Levels Kalimba Klub

I will be doing an "All Levels Kalimba Klub" at my home in Tucson on Thursday, September 14, 7:00 - 9:00 pm. Call me at 881-4666 if you don't know how to get here. If you have a kalimba but haven't played much, check out the Tip of the Day and Learn How to Play the Kalimba. On the other hand, if you don't have a kalimba but WANT one, come on over and we'll see what fits best in your hands.


Look for these items in FUTURE Newsletters:

If you have any questions, or if you have suggestions for future Newsletter Topics or Tip Of The Day ideas, please share them with me! -Mark

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