Today I bought a new instrument at the San Telmo feria called a Kalimba, an indigenous instrument from the west coast of Africa. I love it already but the only thing I can play so far is Mary Had a Little Lamb. I think that will get kind of overplayed soon. Mom, I’m starting to learn Lord of the Dance but it’s missing a note so it doesn’t sound quite right. It only has 8 tines but it makes a beautiful sound. 🙂 Here’s a little history courtesy of Wikipedia…
The thumb piano was typically played while walking by traveling Griots, African poet bards who keep the history of the tribe or village, and to entertain people with songs, stories, poems, dances, etc. It was thought in ancient times that the thumb piano was able to project its sound into the heavens and could draw down spirits to the earth. Some of them were evil spirits so the people would stop playing the music until the spirits had departed from the area.
It is also often an important instrument to be played at religious ceremonies, weddings, and other social gatherings. It is a particularly common musical instrument of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
In the mid 1900’s the instrument was the basis for the development of the Kalimba, a westernized thumb piano designed and marketed by the ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey. This has become very important in popularizing the instrument outside of Africa. While the arrangement of notes on a thumb piano is considerably different from those on a piano or guitar, their arrangement is fairly intuitive, and it is considered to be an instrument easily learned. This quality is exploited in many elementary schools who use the thumb piano as an entry-level instrument. One of its indigenous names for this instrument can be translated as “The thing that makes walking easier.”
And if you want a sample of the kalimba, here is a clip!
and you might recognize this cover… the instrument in the beginning is the kalimba!