Kalimba Players on the Radio
Free CD with Kalimba Purchase
Interview with Gregorio McCluer
New Kalimba Magic Services
More Kalimba Tunings: the Sansula
Kalimba Magic heard on National Radio
Kalimba Club at the Folk Festival
In Next Month's Newsletter
This Thursday, April 26, from 6:00pm - 9:00 pm local Tucson time (we are the same as California time in the summer) Deb Driskill is sitting in for Matthew Moon on Global Rhythm Radio, and throughout her show, she will be sprinkling kalimba and mbira music from some of the best players in the world. Also, she will have an exclusive interview with Tucson percussionist Todd Hammes. Most of you won't be able to tune into KXCI 91.3 FM ON RADIO, but you can listen on line by going to KXCI.
Nobody knows exactly what will be on Deb's playlist, but I know she has music by Scotty Hayward, Peck Allmond, Michael Mironov, Michael Williams, N Scott Robinson, Andy Robinson, Piny Levalle, Laura Barrett, Kevin Spears, Gregorio McCluer, Mark Holdaway, Men-Jaro, Tute Chigamba, and Stella Chewesha. If you miss this broadcast, you can always go to the KXCI web site and check the playlist to see if your favorite kalimba or mbira player's music went out on teh air waves. Stay tuned, and we'll see if we can do another kalimba/mbira show.
That's right - when you order a kalimba from Kalimba Magic, we'll throw in Mark Holdaway's CD Two Thumbs Up for free! It is our hope that the kalimba will affect you the way it has affected us - that it will be a great source of comfort and joy to you, enriching your life and helping you to experience the wonder of music created by your own thumbs. And what better way to inspire you in this quest than to listen to another kalimba player expressing this joy on his Hugh Tracey Alto and Treble kalimbas.
Spirits in the Rocks, with Gregorio on the left, Joy in the center.
Gregorio McCluer is a veteran kalimba player and innovator who lives on the big island of Hawaii. He is a multi-instrumentalist who plays in a variety of styles, most of which revolve around funky reggae, but what attracted me to his music is his innovative use of kalimba tunings. We take a look at how Gregorio uses his kalimbas and a few of the tunings that pass through them.
KM: How long have you been playing kalimba?
GM: Around 20 years. I use the kalimba (or does it use me?} as a solo instrument, but also to compose with, and somtimes just to chill.
KM: I totally know what you mean about the kalimba playing the musician. What other instruments do you play?
GM: Primarily, stringed intruments, guitar. bass guitar, ukulele, mandolin, but I also play blues harp, kalimba and other percussion intruments.
KM: What attracted you to the kalimba?
GM: That's a hard question , it was love at first sight and sound. I think I instinctively knew it was a spirit voice instrument.
KM: Traditionally in Africa, each group of people had a few different types of kalimbas, each with their own tuning. The tunings were passed down from generation to generation. In Zimbabwe, the zenith of mbira/kalimba culture, people are now experimenting with new tunings, often playing old songs with new tunings to transform the songs. How many different kalimbas do you play, and how many different tunings?
GM: I have 7 or 8, all Hugh Tracy, solid and hollow bodies, old and new, all shapes and sizes. I also have a gourd mbira. It was in a traditional African tuning when I got it, and I love it. I keep it in that tuning but no tuning is out of the question. When I'm writing a song and feel it might need a kalimba, I tune my kalimbas to whatever key or keys I'm writing in.
KM: I get the sense that you swim through different tunings like a fish swims through water. Please describe how you migrate from one tuning to another (how often, and why).
GM: Well, necessity is the mother of invention, and since I use the instrument as compositional tool and I often have two kalimbas in a song, as you can imagine, somtimes there are a lot of tuning going on. Once again, I retune as the need arises.
KM: Do you remember old tunings, or are you just sliding into new ones as your inventiveness and new songs require?
GM: Ya... just the obvious ones, the 8 note major & minor scales. As you know changing just one note or two gives you a whole different colour and if it's that simple, great, but often I retune from scratch, I do however have certain tunings I am more comfortable with - I tend to like pentatonic (5 note scales) major and minor - they just feel more exotic to me.
This is the old classic "Fever" - its tuning is an E minor pentatonic, and my wife and I are the singers.
Listen to Fever
[Editor's note: elsewhere on this web site, the tuning diagrams have indicated all of the kalimba's tines, as well as the painted tines. In these tuning charts, we just indicate the lowest, central eight notes of the kalimba. Higher notes would continue in this pattern. On the other hand, these tunings all work for the 8-Note Kalimbas.]
"A Well Tuned Drum" is an original song in an E major pentatonic tuning.
Listen to Well Tuned Drum
This song is "From my Heart." The kalimba is a basic C sharp minor tuning. As usual, I wrote, arranged, and played all the instruments on this tune with the exception of the steel drum, which was played by my good friend, the late Chili Charles.
Listen to From My Heart
In my song "Dream of the White Negro," the kalimbas are tuned to a diminished arpeggio.
Listen to Dream of the White Negro
KM: So, your kalimbas must be in a constant state of flux - how often do you stay in a given tuning?
GM: Well I tend to keep a couple kalimbas tuned to the pentatonic scales (major and minor) as they tend to be versatile in both R&B and World Music. Since the pentatonic is a blues scale and all blues and groove music has its roots in African music they work for a lot of different music.
KM: So, the Alto and Treble Hugh Tracey kalimbas were designed to play the diatonic scale, and you can't really go much lower or much higher than the lowest notes that come in the standard tunings (i.e., G to G on the Alto, or B to D on the Treble). However, when you tune to a pentatonic scale, the intervals between notes, on average, is greater than in the diatonic scale, and the range of the kalimba gets stretched out - and it should get stretched out beyond the range that the kalimba is actually able to support. What do you do in this case - do you have notes at the top (on the far left and right) that you just don't include in that tuning? Or do you double notes?
GM: Ya, you're right, the kalmba can't always accommodate some of the higher notes in the petatonic tunings. I'll sometimes remedy this by adding an extra note to the scale on the top (for instance on the 2nd octave of the A pentatonic tuning I may add a B note after the root). I also will just go ahead and take a few of the highest tines out, a couple of my kalimbas have only 13 or 14 tines - its all very unscientific.
KM: What advice can you give us about retuning? Which kalimbas retune the easiest? Which hold their tuning the best?
GM: Have no fear - even the oddest tunings sound beautiful and valid on the kalimba. To find the Treble kalimba tunes very easy, and it holds its tuning well.
KM: I find that when I retune, sometimes I uncover a buzz that wasn't there before - do you find such problems with retuning?
GM: I sometimes uncover a buzz also, which I tend to enjoy. Often in African music you'll hear the same sort of buzz. In fact most mbiras have bottle caps tacked on to intentionally create a buzz, so I don't tend to think of it as a problem and, in fact, it's sometimes charming.
KM: What is the lowest note you like to play on your ALTO? on your TREBLE?
GM: I believe E is the lowest note on my Alto, and as high as D on my Treble - I've never really thought much about it.
KM: Which kalimbas do you use for these different tunings?
GM: My Altos obviously lend themselves to lower tunings and the treble to the higher tunings.
KM: You have quite a range of bass notes in your tunings: A, E, C#. When I retune, I take the easiest way out - i.e., I try to move 2 or 4 tines by half a step - it seems like you are potentially moving all your tines by more than a step. Do you find yourself doing that, or do you migrate more smoothly from one tuning to a neighbouring tuning, just changing a few notes by a little bit and, over time, you cover these huge distances in "tuning space?"
GM: No, I don't tend to migrate, I have no qualms about retuning completely and, in fact, I've come to really enjoy retuning from scratch - it takes me about 10 - 15 minutes.
KM: N. Scott Robinson (see interview from 2 months ago) always sets his kalimbas up to let the left thumb play the bass note - he is left handed. You seem to set yours up to play the bass note on your right thumb - i.e., the way the Hugh Tracey kalimbas come out of the box. Are you right handed?
GM: I am ambidexterous. I don't tend to think in terms of left and right. The lowest note is often in the middle, and I just work my way up the scale - and not always with the thumbs - sometimes I play with 6 fingers, and sometimes I even play with unsharpened pencils used as mallets. The erasers give a nice bounce and the hard side gives a lot of attack.
KM: Do you have any Hugh Tracey kalimbas tuned the way they come out of the box?
GM: No, I don't think so!
KM: Wow! I still play about half the time in the standard tunings, in spite of experimenting with lots of new tunings. Gregorio, you are truly an explorer of Kalimba tuning space. Thank you very much, Gregorio, for sharing some of your tuning secrets with us. I look forward to meeting you and doing some jamming next time I'm in Hawaii!
Gregorio can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can listen to (and purchase) Gregorio's CDs and Spirits in the Rock's CDs at CD Baby:
Gregorio has several other CD's available on CDBaby. Just go to http://www.CDBaby.com and search for "Spirits in the Rocks."
In order to make Kalimba Magic work, I've had to become quite the Kalimba expert. Sure, you can buy the kalimba from someone else, but I'll bet you a quarter that they aren't going to be able to offer you the types of services that I can. Our line of books and customer care are just the beginning.
We are now proud to offer two new lines of services to the kalimba community: The Kalimba Doctor, and The Kalimba Coach. I figure there were a few hundred thousand Hugh Tracey kalimbas sold in the 1960's and 1970's, and they weren't all well-cared for. The Kalimba Doctor can take your old kalimbas and make the best of them.
The Kalimba Coach can help you with all aspects of your kalimba playing, even if you live on the South Pole.
Here are the Kalimba Doctor services that I've been performing:
And these are the sorts of things the Kalimba Coach can do for you:
Kalimba Coach activities are currently available for $40 an hour.
If you are interested in one of these Kalimba Doctor or Kalimba Coach services, please discuss this with me via email or drop me a line at the Kalimba Quarters: (520) 881-4666.
I'm making some progress in turning on the world to this wonderful music. Most specificially, PRI's nationally syndicated program The World has been playing substantial parts of over half the songs from this CD between their stories. So, if you hear kalimba music on The World, chances are it's me!
Of course, my home town community radio station KXCI continues to give Between the Dark and the Light good air play.
But the big surprise for me is finding that Village 900 Global Roots Radio plays this music every two or three days.
Hey, if you have a radio station in your neck of the woods that you think might be a good fit to this kalimba music, please drop me a line.
If you want to pick up a copy of one of my CD's, drop by the Tucson's 17th Street Market, or go to the Kalimba Shop online. Or, pick one up at the Kitchen Store when you stop by the Tucson Folk Festival May 5 and 6.
I remember the first time I played the Sansula; the exotic tuning was absolutely hypnotic. This is a favorite kalimba for novices to play, because it sounds so wonderful no matter what you play. However, the downside of this is that the Sansula basically only knows one song, the song it was tuned to play.
I've been exploring alternative tunings for all the kalimbas, but I must say that the work I've been doing with Sansula tunings has been the most fruitful. Some tunings lean towards a certain song, while other tunings are more general and can play many songs. It is not difficult to retune the Sansula to one of these new tunings, though you may want to order a Sansula in a particular tuning.
Here is the new Sansula Insert that I am sending out now when folks purchase a Sansula from me. It introduces five new tunings I've invented. You can hear what each of these tunings can do, along with a few others that aren't on this insert:
While each of these tunings is very nice, and some are really special, I estimate that there are a few hundred unique and beautiful Sansula tunings. I can't wait for my next opportunity to dive into that warm and inviting ocean and hunt for a few new Sansula tunings which have never been heard of before.
I should note that some kalimbas are easier to tune than others. Typically, a kalimba that is difficult to tune will be excellent at holding its tuning, and the Sansula does hold its tuning very well. The Sansula is among the most difficult kalimbas to retune, but I have found this endeavor well worth it, with each new Sansula tuning revealing new songs almost immediately.
The Kalimba Club will perform at the Plaza stage of the Tucson Folk Festival on May 6 at noon. The Folk Festival is downtown at Presidio Plaza. This year, the Club is Mark Holdaway, Jordan McGary, Glen Davis, Della Estrada, and Deb Driskill. An added bonus to playing on the Plaza stage is that we'll be on the air on KXCI, 91.3 FM Tucson AZ. The Kalimba Club is back and better than ever. Last year, we focused on duets. This year, we are a full ensemble.
I will be a busy boy on May 4, 5 and 6:
New additions to the Kalimba Community include:
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