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Kalimbas on Tiles

Gary Diggins Plays 'Language Older than Words' for Rwandans

Gary Diggins just got back from Africa, and shared this experience:

I recently spent a month in Africa with an organization working in post-conflict areas, such as Rwanda. Among the instruments I brought along were two Hugh Tracy Kalimbas. During one workshop with women survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, I brought out my Alto Kalimba. I suggested to the participants that sound is a language older than words and that sometimes music speaks to a deeper part of our nature. I subsequently invited everyone into a listening meditation.

I began playing for the 55 participants in an improvised manner and then locked into a spontaneous piece that seemed 'pulled out of me.' Soon into it, I noticed a handful of women giggling and stifling a laugh. I kept playing and then added my singing voice. When I vocalized about a dozen of the women laughed out loud. In the spirit of play, I simply walked over to them while improvising on my Kalimba and kept singing. We all had a good laugh.

During the break, I asked my translators what happened. He smiled and explained that Rwandans have a version of a thumb piano among their national instruments. When I started playing, the women were impressed. However, at some point, the women recognized my 'song' as a Rwandan folk melody. The women were laughing because they couldn't figure out how a white Canadian man would know their music. Traditionally, when this piece is performed, women tend to hum a melody. When I added my voice it was just too much, as if an 'outsider' knew one of their inner secrets.

Gary Diggins


New CDs Featuring Kalimba

Ann-Marie on Harp
This is one seriously happy woman!

Ann-Marie Boudreau is a colleague of Gary Diggins in Toronto. I tell you, there is so much good stuff going on in Toronto - I need to go there. And when I do, I'll meet both Ann-Marie and Gary. They both play on on Ann-Marie's new CD which features both the standard G major Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba and the G minor tuned Hugh Tracey Alto kalimba. We just missed her CD release party on December 8.

Here is the advert for the December 8 event:
NEW HORIZON: A Sound Journey
With: Ann-Marie Boudreau & Friends....
An improvisational style of music-making that uses soulful vocables and a blend of exotic world instruments, New Horizon encourages the listener to explore the rich world of their own imagination! Join us for a wonderful evening of exotic music and dancing!

You can find out more about Ann-Marie and her music at her www.myspace.com/annmarieboudreau page. The track "Rebirth" features kalimba and karimba with some very beautiful and relaxing singing.

Reinald CD

I'd like to turn you onto Reinald's Kalimbas - Ideas & Instruments Collected Over the Years. This is all kalimba and mbira music. The mbira is non-traditional, the Hugh Tracey kalimba is sweet and innovative. Reinald is forging his own way, and his music deserves a listen. I especially like "Pluck and Bow", "Lullaby", and "Kalimba mal drei" (kalimba times three), a trio with flute on top.

Says Reinald:
... the Kalimba taught me while I listened to myself playing with only two rules:
1) Play only what really pleases you and
2) Practice what pleases your heart until your thumbs find their way with eyes closed.
I think that's a rather "traditional" approach to learning.

Says Mark in reply:
I have marvelled at how the kalimba will teach you, and yet each person who really explores the instrument comes up with quite different music, and Reinald's music is unique, a valuable voice in the kalimba universe.


Glen's Tuning

Sometimes new tunings come about in a deliberate and studied manner. But sometimes you get something cool just by throwing your notes into the wind and seeing where they land. That is sort of what happened with Glen's Hokema pentatonic kalimba. Glen took his kalimba apart to clean it (hey, I wouldn't do that, I think I'd start with cleaning the kitchen or bathroon myself), and when he put it back together, he just put the tines in place roughly as they used to be, and Glen just started playing it to see where the notes had fallen. And this tuning WORKED.

The top half of the scale was a minor pentatonic, and the botton half was a major pentatonic (though Glen later modified one note). The coolest thing about the scale was that there was a redundant note - two tines, one on either side, were sitting on the same note - or almost the same note. They were a bit off from each other, and the out-of-tune-ness amounted to a 4 Hz difference, so the beating was part of this tuning. Later I fine tuned some of the notes, but Glen wouldn't let me fine-tune the notes that were off by 4 Hz - he wanted that beating!

Glens Tuning
After he put his kalimba back together without tuning it, Glen's kalimba just happened to have this tuning on it, which he decided he really like.


Tark's Sansula Tuning

Tark has a wonderful new tuning for the Sansula which he beautifully displays in his YouTube video. We stopped the presses for this one!

I'd like to get the story about how Tark came up with this tuning, but that will have to wait until next time. I will just say that when I hear his music, I get the sense that there is some inherent perfection in the way that it is tuned. This reminds me of how B. Michael Williams talks about the traditional karimba.

We don't have the story, but Tark is graciously sharing his new Heavenly A Sansula tuning:

Tarks Sansula Tuning


Kalimba Video

Lots of good kalimba video out there.

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