Sep 5, 2015
Vol 10, Num 4

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Mark's Eight (OK, Nine) Favorite Kalimbas
Preferred Kalimbas of a Seasoned Kalimba Lover

I admit it - I am a kalimba addict and an inveterate kalimba innovator. If I see a new kalimba, I want it. Plus, as often as not, I'll imagine a new kalimba tuning or note layout, figure out which kalimba I have in stock at Kalimba Magic with the capacity to take this new tuning, and then I make that new tuning a reality. If I like the resulting instrument, I am likely to make it available to the rest of the world.

That said, I probably have 30 or 40 personal kalimbas that have been taken out of stock, but there are only a few at any given time that I love, cherish, and dream about. This article pays homage to those favorites:

Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba
My 25 year old Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba

Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba

The Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba was my second kalimba, purchased back in 1990. This kalimba feels like my mother language, linking me to my primal kalimba roots. I have played this particular kalimba so much, I'm not really sure where I end and it begins.

With a good range of exactly two octaves, 15 notes, there are zillions of songs you can do on this instrument. The Alto was originally in the key of G, but I tuned it down to the key of F about six years ago.

The Alto also has a lovely mellow tone. It is rich and deep and peaceful, and I can rely on it to connect me to a quiet joy.

I have written a dozen books and downloads full of juicy material that are available at the Kalimba Magic Shop - so you can learn how to do a lot of the things that I have spent 29 years studying how to do on this kalimba.

Now through Sep 30 2015 use the coupon code ALTO22 to save 22% on the Hugh Tracey Alto Kalimba with PU.

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Hugh Tracey Bb Treble Kalimba
My older Hugh Tracey Bb Treble kalimba

Hugh Tracey Bb Treble kalimba

A Hugh Tracey Treble kalimba first came to me from my son Tim, who found it on eBay. It was probably made around 1970 and had never been played much, and had some problems. Over the course of fixing those problems, I migrated the kalimba into what would become the first ever Bb ("B flat") Treble kalimba.

The Treble has two extra tines at the top of the range to total 17 notes versus the 15 of the Alto.

Treble tines are narrower than the Alto's and the whole instrument is smaller than the Alto, so it fits in your hands a bit differently than the Alto - it is better for small hands. Or if you have the manual dexterity, the closer, smaller tines make it easier to play fast.

It's tone is bright, distinctive, crisp and clear. And when you can find a Hugh Tracey Treble made from blond kiatt wood (all Hugh Tracey kalimbas are built using kiaat wood) the instrument is especially bright. The blond wood is sap wood, which lacks the oils in denser wood and so tends to produce a brighter sound, though with somewhat less sustain than denser wood. We currently have a few blond Trebles and Altos in stock. If you are interested in one, please contact me.

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Hugh Tracey African-tuned Karimba
Hugh Tracey African-tuned karimba

Hugh Tracey African-tuned karimba

The Hugh Tracey African-tuned karimba was my deeply enriching doorway into genuine African music. For years, I played the Alto kalimba and - well - I thought I was seeking Africa in that playing... But, in actual fact, I was just gravitating back to my comfortable Western folk, pop, classical and sacred music. It wasn't until I picked up the African-tuned karimba that I found a path into a rich and ancient African musical tradition.

In many ways, the karimba has been eclipsed by the mbira dzavadzimu as the preeminent traditional African lamellophone. I feel that the mbira is indeed the pinnacle of African lamellophone music, but I believe, as does Andrew Tracey, that the mbira is probably not the most ancient tradition. That place in history likely belongs to the karimba. As such, the karimba can help us get inside the mind of ancient Africa, over 1000 years ago.

Another strong advantage of this karimba is that it has a range of exactly two octaves, starting and ending on the root note, the same range as the Alto kalimba. In other words, any song that can be played on the African-tuned karimba can also be played on the Alto kalimba. (The converse statement is not true, as the karimba lacks some notes that are on the Alto kalimba.) This means that all of the wonderful karimba music in the traditional repertoire is also available to the Alto kalimba. (By the way, even though this one is usually shipped out in the key of A, I have tuned mine down to G.)

Now through Sep 30 2015 use the coupon code KARIMBA22 to save 22% on the Hugh Tracey African Karimba or the Hugh Tracey African Karimba with Pickup.

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Goshen Student Karimba
Box-mounted Goshen Student karimba

Box-mounted Goshen Student karimba

The eight notes of the Box-mounted Goshen karimba are the same as the lower row of the full African-tuned karimba, and are hypothesized to be the original notes on the instruments approximately 1300 years ago. The upper row notes were added centuries later as African lamellophones underwent a wave of innovation that also led to the mbira dzavadzimu - that is, both the mbira and the full karimba likely grew out of this simple one-row instrument. In other words. So this instrument is close to the source, the fountain from which all karimba/mbira music came.

There are several student karimbas: the Hugh Tracey 9-note in G, the Goshen 9-note in G, and also the Catania 8-note can be turned into a student karimba in G, A, or C.

However, I love the Goshen Student karimba the best. I love the box, the wah-wah tones it enables, the tone and the range. This one is in C, higher than the G tuning that most other student karimbas come in, and its sound just soars.

Finally, I love to walk with my box-mounted Goshen Student karimba. I have recently started a program of speed walking to get my heartbeat up to 70-80% of my maximum heart beat rate several times a week. I play as I walk, and the walking is very brisk, about 130 - 135 bpm to get my heart rate up. Because of its simplicity, this instrument is easier to play at a speedy tempo as I hurl myself down the street.

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A minor Karimba
A minor box karimba

The A minor-tuned box karimba

The A minor box-mounted Hugh Tracey karimba was actually made for me by Christian Carver. Unlike most karimbas, this one is mounted on a box, which makes it a bit louder, gives it a midrange resonant peak and wah-wah effect created by rapidly covering and uncovering the holes.

I could not connect with this instrument initially. I was bothered that the tone changed in the midrange due to the resonant box. But one day I tuned it to A minor instead of A major, which resolved the issue.

The minor tuning, which admittedly distances the instrument from its African music origins, nevertheless has the awesome effect of leading my mind into a mysterious, creative place.

A final bonus for me with this instrument is that the A minor tuning is consistent with the key of C major, which is the preferred key of my band, Baba Marimba.

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Freygish Karimba
Freygish-tuned karimba

SaReGaMa Freygish-tuned Karimba

The SaReGaMa Freygish-tuned karimba is a recent addition to my favorite kalimbas. I have been so enthralled with this kalimba that I have written a book full of new music for it.

This is probably the most consciously accessible of the SaReGaMa tunings. The Air and Lotus-tuned karimbas are more popular than the Freygish, but the Freygish is the most regularly tuned of the three.

By regularly tuned, I mean it is easiest to wrap your head around this tuning, easiest to make an internal map of which tines make which notes, and easiest to predict where your thumbs should go to produce the tones you want to hear.

The very most popular of the three SaReGaMa karimbas is the Lotus, which is the least regularly tuned - the one that I find I am least able to consciously drive. SaReGaMa's Lotus-tuned karimba has the strongest potential mystically, requiring almost a trance-like openness to discover its musical wisdom. Still, the Freygish-tuned karimba gets my vote!

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Thomas Bothe Kalimba
Thomas Bothe 2B/9 kalimba

Thomas Bothe 2B/9 Kalimba

The very first Thomas Bothe "2B" kalimba I ever laid eyes on makes the list of my favorite kalimbas. Yes, there are many kalimbas that are more capable and powerful than this one. It seems to me that this 9-note kalimba knows only one song, but it is a simple, positive and energizing little song that requires almost no effort to access.

For years I have dreamed of recording with this little angel, and now I have finally done so just for this newsletter.

Listen to my new composition on the Thomas Bothe 2B/9.

I have exactly one 2B/9 left in stock. Unfortunately, this kalimba's maker, Thomas Bothe, developed a very bad reaction to the sawdust from paduak, the wood from which the 2B kalimbas are made. He then started to make the kalimbas in mahogany, and has now become sensitized to that wood as well. By employing a woodworker to do the cutting, drilling, and sanding for him, Thomas will eventually be able to make more 2B/9 and 2B/14 kalimbas, but, unfortunately, for the moment we don't know when that will be.

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Kalimbula by Hands On Drums
The new Kalimbula by Hands On Drums

The new Kalimbula by Hands On Drums

The most recent new kalimba in my collection is the Kalimbula by Hands on Drums in Germany. The tines and bridge are the same as on the Hokema Sansulas. The overall instrument has much of the sound of a Sansula, but the ceramic body has inspired me toward a new, bluesy E tuning.

OK - I have to be honest here - is this kalimba really one of my all-time favorites, or is it just passing through my lineup of top kalimbas? I cannot really say.

That said, people have been asking for an amplified version of the Hokema Sansula for years, and they just don't exist. The kalimbula solves the Sansula amplification issue, twice over. An optional piezo-electric pickup mounted under the bridge gives a clear sound of the tines vibrating, and an optional dynamic microphone mounted inside the ceramic resonant cavity reproduces the airy wah-wah sound you get from covering and uncovering the sound holes.

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The C-tuned Alto

BONUS Favorite! The C-tuned Alto Kalimba

The bonus kalimba, the ninth in my list of eight favorites, is the C-tuned Alto kalimba.

Really, it is just an Alto kalimba, painted exactly as the standard Alto, and tuned almost exactly like the standard Alto - the only difference is the two F# tines have been tuned down a half step to F natural so that now C is the root note.

This means the lowest note on the kalimba is not the root but the 5th. Having the lowest note be the root is expected and comfortable, but the motion from 5 to 1, from the low G to the C in this case, is also among the strongest motions in Western music. 5 to 1 are the first two notes of A - MAZ - ing Grace...! A tuning with the 5 in the lowest tine opens doors to different music and a different body of songs on this instrument.

And, as I mentioned for the A minor-tuned box karimba above, the fact that it is in the key of C facilitates the marimba accompaniment so integral to my band Baba Marimba.

Now through Sep 30 2015 use the coupon code ALTO22 to save 22% on the Hugh Tracey C-tuned Alto Kalimba with PU.


Hey, so what's your favorite kalimba? Contact me and let me know which one and why!

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