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Visit mbira is one of the other names given to the Kalimba. It is also known as the Sanza or Mambira. The Kalimba is a percussion instrument from South Africa. It consists of a soundboard with metal keys on top to give the different notes. Several tongues or points are pinched with the thumb or fingers, and the tongue vibrations are amplified by a hollow-box resonator or resonance box.

The name Kalimba is a Bantu word meaning "little music" and is similar to the word Karimba, a type of Mambira. The name Kalimba is now a generic name and can describe any non-traditional thumb piano, or can even be used generically for traditional African lamelephones (i.e. mbira, karimba, sansa, etc.).


The native Kalimba that inspired today's instrument is thought to have been invented in Zimbabwe around 1,000 years ago. Over the years, it was used primarily for musical performances, but was also played in Bira spirit possession ceremonies. . There is archaeological evidence in Zambia of iron strips that resemble leaves indirectly dated from 500 to 700 B.C. This early origin suggests that Kalimba may have been the original form of lamella in Zimbabwe.

origin of the kalimba
Origin of the Kalimba

The Hugh Tracey version of the Kalimba popularized this form of mbira and extended the instrument's appeal to Western audiences at some point in the second half of the twentieth century, because its creator wanted to showcase this fascinating, companionable and unique African instrument. In the rest of the world This Kalimba is a new musical instrument with an ancient history, the latest member of the family of African instruments known by names such as Mbira, Likembe, Chisanzi, Endongo, Timbrh, Marimbula.

Parts of the kalimba

Until recently, there were very few books on Kalimba practice, and people often didn't share the same vocabulary when referring to different parts of it.

kalimba parts
Parts of the kalimba

Resonant box or flat board

Some traditional African Kalimbas were built on hollow, resonant bodies, but most were mounted on a flat board. Those mounted on the box are louder, and a great "wah-wah" effect can be achieved by covering and uncovering the sound holes. Plate-mounted kalimbas have a flatter "equalization curve" and can be amplified in the traditional way; by placing them inside or on top of a large dried and hollowed-out pumpkin to improve resonance.

Other resonant structures

When you press a tooth to produce a sound in the Kalimba, you don't have much control over how the tooth will vibrate. However, you do have some control over how the body of the Kalimba will resonate. If you cover and uncover the sound hole, the resonance properties of the box will change. In some Kalimbas, there are intelligent resonance cameras that can give very interesting variations in tone, as well as note duration.


They are located under the central crossbar, also separated in the transom. They are responsible for the sound.


  • Kalimba is inspired by indigenous African Bantu instruments and made in South Africa.
  • The instrument ranges from B3 to D6.
  • The instrument features 22 to 28 metal keys mounted on a hardwood soundboard.
  • The table is made from a native tree, the mubvamaropa (Pterocarpus angolensis).
  • Originally, metal keys had been melted directly into rock containing iron ore, but eventually began to produce recycled steel; such as springs, bicycle spokes or car seat springs. iture springs.

How Kalimba works

The seventeen steel tongues / slats have the same width and thickness, and differ from each other only in length. They are fixed with a metal pressure bar that is screwed to the soundboard. The bar exerts downward pressure on the leaves against a backrest, a semicircular horizontal piece of wood above the soundboard, and a bridge, a metal rod inlaid in a horizontal block of wood sticking to the box. resonance about two inches below the top of the resonator.

The vibrating section of a leaf is that which extends beyond the metal rod. The tip of each tongue it touches is slightly bent. The resonator is constructed from six mubvamaropa wooden shelves glued together to form a trapezoidal-shaped box. A hole is drilled in the center of the soundboard and two smaller holes are drilled in the back of the resonator.

How Kalimba is played

The musician holds the sides of the table in the palms of his hands, leaving his thumbs free to flex and release the tongues with a downward movement. The performer's right thumb uses the nine leaves on the right side, while the eight tongues on the left side are touched by the left thumb.

The instrument is tuned approximately to a diatonic scale of equal temperament. Starting with the longest tongue in the center of the keyboard (blue) and alternating sides during the first movement to the left, a larger sunburst scale is produced from its third degree onwards. The musician can use the index or middle finger of either hand to open and close the holes in the board, creating a vibratory effect.

Video recommended: How to play Kalimba without knowing anything about music

How to make your own Kalimba

Making your own Kalimba can be very easy if you follow the steps below.

Materials to be used

Making crossbars

You can make the crossbars out of practically anything strong enough to hold the elastic spikes. Different materials can produce different sounds. Harder materials produce a brighter sound, and softer, warmer woods.

The tips

You can make kalimba points with many different things, some of the best are steel, here's a list of things you can try: saw blades, rakes, flat sewer springs, bicycle spokes, windshield wiper forks, part of the thickest piano wire (found in broken pianos), measuring gauges used in vehicles. Make sure the spikes are tight, otherwise your kalimba may ring or vibrate without your intention.

Determine the size of your Kalimba

To determine the size of your Kalimba using the tips as a guide, mark where you want your board to end. Ideally, the length of the board protects the spikes and provides sufficient counterweight for sustenance.

Wire holes

It's best to drill all 3 holes so that the wire passes through the loop and holds the central crossbar. It's best if the holes are aligned.

Fixing the central crossbar

Cut a piece of wire to hold the center crossbar, bend the wire in half, place the crossbar in the middle and secure it with a few turns, guide both wires through the hole in the center upwards, give the Turn and guide one of the wires through the left hole, the same goes for the right.

Replace the cable on the crossbar in the hole for both sides and check that the height of the central crossbar is low enough to press the barbs against the other crossbars. Loop the sides a second time and secure the wires to the back of the board by twisting and trimming the excess cable.

Adding tips and adjusting

Push the barbs under the central crossbar. Lift the barbs and push the other crossbars under the barbs. Then separate the tips evenly across the board. Now, to fine-tune, you can simply adjust the length and get different tones. Play and listen to what you think of a pleasing set of notes. You can always turn to a guitar tuner or online apps to fine-tune the Kalimba.

How notes are organized on a Kalimba

The Hugh Tracey Kalimba Alternate Notes scheme has several fundamental consequences.

  • Scales are difficult: this is because the notes that are next to each other on the scale are very far apart (on opposite sides) on the Kalimba.
  • Chords are easy: two, three or four adjacent Kalimba notes will always sound great together.
  • The octaves will be on opposite sides, with one thumb down and the other up.

Different Kalimba names in each country

  • Likembe and Sanza in Congo.
  • Ikembe in Rwanda and Burundi.
  • Prempremsuah and gyilgo in Ghana.
  • Unlimited and chirimba in Tanzania.
  • Kadongo and Akogo in Uganda.
  • Mbira in the town of Shona.
  • Kalimba in Kenya

Traditional use of Kalimba

The Shona see the Kalimba as a sacred instrument. The keys were made from cast-iron ore extracted from the sacred hills and mountains where Shona chiefs and statesmen are buried. For them, this signifies the presence of ancestral spirits directly within the instrument. Consequently uently, the instrument is one of the Shona's most important instruments in religious ceremonies.

traditional use of kalimba
Traditional use of Kalimba


The Sanza, Mambira or Kalimba A member of the percussion family. Kalimba is a musical instrument from southern Africa. It consists of a soundboard with metal keys on top to give the different notes. The name Kalimba is a Bantu word meaning "little music". It is now a generic name and can describe any non-traditional thumb piano.

Kalimba is inspired by indigenous African Bantu instruments and made in South Africa. The instrument ranges from B3 to D6. It consists of 22 to 28 metal keys mounted on a hardwood soundboard made from an indigenous tree, the mubvamaropa (Pterocarpus angolensis).

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