Sep 5, 2015
Vol 10, Num 4

Kalimba Magic NEWS

The Kalimbula and the Bluesy E Tuning
Generalist versus Specialist Tunings

In this article, i introduce a brand new instrument, the Kalimbula, as well as the Bluesy E tuning that I invented to demo the Kalimbula.

The New Kalimbula from Hands on Drums in Germany


The Kalimbula is a new kalimba model made by Jens Rabenseifner of Hands on Drums. It is made from Sansula hardware and can be tuned to any of the Sansula tunings. But instead of the usual frame drum mounting, the Kalimbula is mounted to a sturdy wood face built onto a ceramic body.

The ceramic body has three sound holes, whose purpose is to enable sound effects. These are two 3.5 cm holes on each side that your index and middle fingers can easily cover, and a larger 6 cm hole on the bottom. Sound effects are made by rapidly covering and uncovering the holes. Use the large bottom hole by setting the body on a table or your lap and moving it up and down off the surface just a few centimeters. This can create some truly fascinating sound effects - a pronounced wah-wah in the resonance that reminds me of the distinctively appealing acoustics that made the Sansula's debut such a success 10 years ago.

Kalimbula from bottom
"Oh No!" Kalimbula from bottom:
three sound holes, two pickup jacks,
and one silly expression!

A great feature of the Kalimbula is that it comes with an optional pickup. The standard Sansulas never came with any pickup, and indeed presented technical problems for mounting a pickup within the frame drum resonant chamber. The ceramic Kalimbula overcomes the pickup issue with two pickup options - a piezo pickup mounted underneath the bridge, and a dynamic microphone that picks up the air vibrations as well.

The Kalimbula can be ordered in three different configurations: with no pickup, with only the piezo pickup (which gets a clear and high volume sound off the kalimba tines) or with both the piezo and dynamic microphone pickups (the dynamic mic inside the ceramic body picks up the rich wah-wah sound you get from covering and uncovering any of the three sound holes).

Kalimba Magic will have Kalimbulas in stock around September 23, 2015. Pre-order now to save one for yourself.

Kalimbula in Bluesy E Tuning. The Kalimbula is available in any Sansula tuning. The wah-wah is from the action of covering and uncovering the bottom sound hole as I lift and lower the Kalimbula off the surface of my thigh.

Inspiration for the Bluesy E tuning and music

The first Kalimbula came to me in an A major pentatonic tuning. In terms of tunings for a 9-note kalimba, this is sort of a generalist tuning. I felt it was a bit on the "plain vanilla" side. Although this pentatonic scale is naturally limited, it does allow a fair amount of music, considering it only has 9 notes. Yet, I just didn't feel the Kalimbula in this tuning was able to shine or let me do something mystical or special.

So I began experimenting. The the upper D was first note I retuned, and it gave the Kalimbula a bluesy feel. I kept the low A and C# (the 1 and 3 of the A chord) in their original tuning. This gave the instrument a lot of flexibility. I could play in A major or in a bluesy E, among other possibilities. However, the low A and C# did not really serve the bluesy E possibilities in the tuning. Not completely satisfied, I tuned the A and C# up to B and D (the 5 and flat or bluesy 7th of E). This completely removed the ability to play in the key of A, but facilitates a groovy, bluesy music. And so the Bluesy E tuning for the Kalimbula was born. Of course, this tuning also works for the Sansula.

Listen to Blues for Stefan
written in Bluesy E tuning
(learn who Stefan is in this article).

Generalist verses Specialist Tunings

The generalist tuning can play lots of songs, and though the specialist tuning can play a much smaller "space" of music, it can be very enchanting.

Some tunings are very good at performing a single task or occupying a single space (the Sansula's original A minor tuning, the Freygish-tuned karimba, and this Bluesy E tuning come to mind). They are not generally capable - you cannot expect to pick it up and be able to play any sort of song or play along with just any music. As they occupy a thin slice of the harmonic musical pie, anyone playing with you is going to have to move over to that space of things that your special kalimba tuning can do. But this effort is well worth it - that special tuning can do its rather limited job very well.

Just for reference's sake, I consider the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba and the Hugh Tracey Bb Treble Kalimba to be prime examples of generalist kalimbas that can play thousands of songs. The scale itself, the regular old "Do Re Mi" major scale, is not particularly enchanting, but these kalimbas are fairly intuitive and with a little bit of familiarization, the music will just flow out of these instruments. They will sound pretty good even if the player doesn't know much about playing, and they can sound extremely good if you dedicate hundreds of hours to practicing, and learn (or write) a body of songs.

The Hugh Tracey Chromatic Kalimba is the most general kalimba of all, capable of playing almost any song you can throw at it. The flip side is that this kalimba is almost impossibly difficult to learn to play well - or rather it will take you hundreds or thousands of hours of playing and actual working at it to get good. On the other hand, we have to do something worthwhile to occupy our hands and minds as we walk upon this earth.

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