The different types of kalimbas: what's the difference?

kalimba instrument

The kalimba, or otherwise known as a "tumbaéira" or "Marimba kalimba", is an ancient African keyboard instrument. It is well suited to the music of Africa and parts of Latin America. It generally consists of a metal or wooden body with tongues to create a unique tone. Of African origin, the kalimba is generally made from slate, hardwood and ivory, and usually has between eight and fifteen tongues.

Kalimbas come in different types, and all have unique characteristics and different improvisations. Here are some of the main differences between the different types of kalimbas:

Wooden and ivory kalimba

Wood and ivory kalimbas are probably the oldest and most original of kalimbas. These are made of light-colored wood, and the tongues are made of genuine ivory, which produces very rich, realistic shades. Handmade kalimbas are generally solidly built and retain their tone beautifully. Wooden and ivory kalimbas are generally highly prized and cherished by collectors and kalimba players alike.

Steel Kalimbas

Steel kalimbas are generally smaller and lighter than their wooden and ivory counterparts. Most steel kalimbas also have strings through a small opening in the body, and are generally designed to produce higher-pitched tones. Steel kalimbas are generally more readily available and less expensive than string or wind instruments. Many distinctive and rich sounds can be obtained using these instruments.

Metal Kalimbas

Metal kalimbas are generally made from aluminum, making them lightweight and corrosion-resistant. These kalimbas can be very versatile and are perfect for beginner players. Metal tongues generally produce brighter, more metallic sounds. Metal kalimbas can also be transported more easily and generally require less maintenance than other types of kalimba.

Digital kalimba

Digital kalimbas are generally constructed from high-quality plastic and are very easy to transport. They are equipped with an integrated circuit that can be programmed to create a number of different tones and sound effects. Digital kalimbas can be played at higher volumes and are capable of playing very metallic sounds. These instruments are ideal for those who prefer a more experimental approach to music.

Inevitably, each type of kalimba can be adapted to suit your personal musical style and preference. Whether you're looking for a rich, classical nuance, a more experimental metallic sound or a more modern touch to your music, you're sure to find a kalimba to suit your needs.

The kalimba is a wonderful instrument with a history and heritage that goes back centuries in Africa and beyond. Whatever type of kalimba you choose, you're sure to find the perfect instrument to accompany you on your musical journey.