In This IssueWhat's New at Kalimba MagicThe Kalimba in Music TherapyThe Amadinda, a Traditional African MarimbaWonderful New Music on the 8-Note KalimbaInterview with Andrew Tracey, director emeritus of ILAMKalimba CommunityOur Visit to Grahamstown Hospice in Africa

Ugandan Amadinda Sets the Stage for African Music

the AMI Amadinda Marimba
I had a great time working with a large group of kids, centering the music we created around this Ugandan marimba which uses a traditional African pentatonic scale. We will be carrying the AMI amadinda soon. The amadinda is a 12-note instrument, while the AMI akadinda is a 17-note instrument.

Watch Christian Carver teaching me a riff on the huge akadinda at ILAM—on YouTube

Watch some people who know what they are doing on the amadinda—on YouTube

I recently brought home a beautiful amadinda, a traditional sort of Ugandan marimba tuned to a non-western pentatonic scale (i.e., the notes and intervals don't lie on western notes or intervals). Made by AMI (African Musical Instrments, the same people who make the Hugh Tracey kalimbas) out of resonant kiaat wood, it sounds great. It is played by two people on opposite sides, and the strike the edge of the marimba bars with wooden mallets. I plan to start importing these instruments in October 2008.

I recently had a major musical task: to instruct 80 children between the ages of 5 and 11 on kalimba. OK, it was actually four groups of 20 kids, each for an hour, for three days (i.e., three hours) of rehearsal time, culminating in a performance. I focused on the African-tuned amadinda, and retuned seven student 8-Note kalimbas as well as a ten 9-Note student karimbas to this Ugandan scale. And for dessert, I retuned the Cloud Nine marimbula (i.e., bass kalimba) to the same scale. I went into the classes and explained that we would be working in groups, and each group would write one or two parts. Flitting among the groups, I helped people be creative, helped them refine their musical creations, and documented them with my Zoom H4 Handy Recorder. Lots of people wanted the two available slots for amadinda player, so working in teams of two, we had "try outs" to see which team played the best music (also considering the fact that everyone else would have to play along with whatever the amadinda team came up with).

I went home that night with recordings of about 30 fragments of kalimba, karimba, and amadinda music for the four groups of 20. Just by being in the same room at the same time, several of the instrument parts ended up have similar tempo or rhythms. It was fairly simple to encode these parts into KTabS files for the different instruments, and playing these back together, I was able to fine tune the parts to optimize the way they fit together. And, as they were written down in KTabS format, I didn't have to remember how they went —I just opened up my laptop, and KTabS could play them for me (although in a "westernized" tuning).

The next day, I came in and showed everyone their parts—first, on KTabS on the computer so they could hear how everything fit together, and then in person on the different instruments. As many of the parts were the same or very similar to the parts people had come up with the day before, it was pretty straight forward. In the past, I have sometimes had difficulty in teaching parts to kids because they can't do what I think they might be able to. In this case, the parts were taken directly from what they demonstrated they could do. We added some percussion, as not everyone wanted to play a kalimba or karimba, and then set about getting the whole musical structure to be self-supporting, bring each group in one at a time. The performance was a great success!

Soon, I will be offering the amadinda for sale, and I see this sort of work, ensembles built around these instruments and like-tuned kalimbas, as a rich field to labor in, and I expect wonderful things to happen in this vein. In fact, Glen Davis and I will be performing on the amadinda and kalimba at Javalinas Coffee House, Tucson AZ, on Thursday, August 28.

The Amadinda's Tuning

The amadinda tuning is, from low to high: C, D+40, F-20, G+20, A#-40, C, D+40, F-20, G+20, A#-40, C, D+40. The numbers like +40 indicate that this note is 40 cents sharp of the note listed.

By the way, I often hear people equate "out of tune" with "traditional African tuning". For example, I picked up a Pakistani kalimba in a store and pointed out that it is terribly out of tune. The store owner said "Well, those Africans use different scales, so it is just as good as being in tune to an African scale." Oh, it could not be further from the truth! Below, I prove the genious of the amadinda's scale.

If you look at the amadinda tuning, you see first of all that all octaves are preserved (i.e., both the low and high F's are 20 cents flat, so when played together, they make a perfect octave). Next, you may notice that the 5ths are not perfect 5ths (often ethnic scales do have perfect 5ths), but rather the C to G+20 interval is about 20 cents more than a 5th, and that from G+20 to D+40 is also 20 cents more than a 5th, and, after equating A#-40 with A+60, from D+40 to A+60 is ALSO 20 cents more than a 5th. AND further equating F-20 with E+80, from A+60 to E+80 is also 20 cents more than a 5th. AND FINALLY, from F-20 to C is 20 cents more than a 5th. Remarkable! This ancient pentatonic scale has rigorous mathematical integrity!

Another way of looking at the amadinda's tuning is that each pair of adjacent notes is a whole step plus 40 cents - or almost a step and a quarter, or 240 cents (as a half step is 100 cents and a whole step is 200 cents). By going up five such intervals, you go up 240 * 5 = 1200 cents - exactly an octave. A remarkable result of this tuning is that it doesn't matter where you start on the instrument—any note could be chosen as the root, and all the intervals above and below are the same as if you had picked the next note.

Makers of western musical instruments had a terrible time tuning pianos until the equally tempered scale was introduced. This is because they were basing their scale on the interval of the "perfect 5th", which comes to us thanks to the physics of the vibrating string or vibrating wind columns. On a string, the first overtone is an octave above the fundamental (i.e., twice the frequency of the fundamental), and the next overtone is a 5th above the first overtone, or a factor of 1.500000 higher in frequency. Even though the harmony of some notes (such as those a 5th apart) is pure and lovely, basing the scale on this interval results in some other intervals being horribly out of tune, hence the equally tempered scale was introduced, in which all keys are slightly and equally out of tune.

Now, just as the western scale used to be generated from the perfect 5th, the tuning system of the Ugandan amadinda is based on the interval of a 5th plus 20 cents! The result, a pentatonic scale—usually considered more primitive than the 12-tone western system of music—is in some ways more consistent than the Western major scale—at least until they went for the equally tempered western scale. In fact, the amadinda has an equally tempered scale, just tempered differently!

The more you learn about African music and traditional African technology and understanding and cleverness, the more you will be amazed!

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