Sep 5, 2015
Vol 10, Num 4

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Rare, Original Afroharp Documentation!
Manual and Patent Info

Voice of the Flower
The Afroharp was marketed by "Voice of the Flower, Ltd."

After our article about the Afroharp in last month's newsletter, several people wrote in to say how touched they were by Jonatha Brooke's amazing performance on the Afroharp.

Several others shared fond memories about their experiences with the Afroharp over the years, including Ivodne Galatea who also sent us original Afroharp documentation: a four page manual as well as the four page patent for the instrument issued in 1971.

In this article, we share these treasures with you, dear Afroharp enthusiast friends:

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The Original Afroharp Manual

Click the images below to see high resolution views from circa 1970 manual:

Afro Harp Manual 1 Afro Harp Manual 2
Afroharp Manual 3 Afroharp Manual 4
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The Afroharp Patent

Afroharp Patent
Click for the full 4-page patent PDF

James Wilson and Fred Kaz under "Voice of the Flower, Ltd" applied for a patent for the Afroharp design in 1969 and received the patent in 1971.

I'm not convinced the Afroharp instrument warranted a patent, as many of its design features were previously patented by Hugh Tracey in 1954 when African Musical Instruments began production. In fact, to be honest, I am not sure Hugh Tracey deserved a patent either.

The Afroharp patent includes information such as "the distance the wires or rods extend from the bridge determines the musical tone quality." This is stuff that any traditional African kalimba builder from the last 1000 years could have told you. On the other hand, the loops at the far end of the tines facilitate grasping and retuning the tines, and that probably was a patentable idea.

Currently, in the year 2015, there are thousands of people around the world making kalimbas of essentially similar designs, but each person puts his or her own spin on the instrument, adding his or her own twist to what has been done a million times before them. Many are improving on the great ideas of those who came before them, which is a really beautiful thing to see. Keep innovating, oh ye kalimba builders!

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How Fred Kaz Marketed the Afroharp

Fred Kaz actually wrote a song called "Voice of the Flower", performed by Odetta in the 1969 movie The Monitors, which Kaz also wrote the entire score for. The song "Voice of the Flower" itself has minimal use of the Afroharp, but you can hear the Afroharp in bits and pieces in various parts of the soundtrack, especially in the opening song. You can watch the movie The Monitors on YouTube (until someone complains and it's taken down). Ivodne adds: "But it's a truly terrible movie" filled with late 1960s color, paranoia, quick romance, campy idealism, and general goofiness. I dunno... sounds kind of fun to me.

When Hugh Tracey came out with the kalimba in 1954, it did not make a big splash until his sons Andrew and Paul Tracey put together their world music review Wait a Minim in the early 1960s, featuring the kalimba. Wait a Minim toured the world for seven years, including almost an entire year on Broadway in New York. People all over the world were introduced to the kalimba in a very enjoyable manner.

Fred Kaz was trying to do the same thing as Hugh Tracey and sons. Fred Kaz was trying to gather marketing momentum around the name "Voice of the Flower" as the name of his company, as well as the logo on the Afroharp, and also the name of the finale song by Odetta in his movie "The Monitors." Unfortunately, the song was not a hit and the movie was a flop. Had the movie taken off, we might all be playing the Afroharp and the Hugh Tracey kalimba may have gone extinct, instead of the other way around.

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Fond Memories

Says long-time Kalimba Magic customer and longer time player, Larry Potter:
"The Afroharp...was the first kalimba I ever owned, bought in the 70's from the Royal Ontario Museum for $12! Later came HT Treble & Alto (now both 40 plus yrs old) then various mbira and, of course, my Chromatic from you, which I give up on at least twice a month but keep coming back to for more punishment. I still have the Afroharp and play it."

Says Ivodne Galatea:
"I've used my Afroharp for years in my scale/affordance work...being able to retune in a hurry was great for the Tonkori kalimba project... The Afroharp was possibly the first amplified kalimba...it had a hole in the back for a tiny electret microphone."

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