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Updated: Feb 2

The Kalimba, also known as the African thumb piano, is a traditional instrument with a history stretching back as much as 3000 years. Originating in the Zambezi Valley of present-day Zimbabwe, the Kalimba evolved into a complex instrument integral to the Shona people's culture and religious practices. It was known as the Mbira Dzavadzimu, 'big mbira of the ancestral spirits', featuring up to 25 metal tines and often paired with a natural gourd amplifier called a deze​​​​​​.

Thump Music Kalimba
Thump Music Kalimba

Hugh Tracey and the Modern Kalimba

The modern Kalimba as we know it today owes much to ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey. His exposure to African music and culture, especially the mbira, while working in Zimbabwe in the 1920s, led him to develop a deep appreciation for these instruments. Tracey's efforts culminated in the founding of the International Library of African Music (ILAM) in 1954. He also began manufacturing the Hugh Tracey Kalimba, designed to be played using the standard do-re-mi scale of Western music. This version of the Kalimba has become widely popular in Western musical circles​​​​.

The Kalimba in Modern Music

Today, the Kalimba continues to charm music lovers across the globe. Its distinct, tranquil sound has found its way into various genres, from traditional African tunes to contemporary Western music. Musicians like Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire have incorporated the Kalimba into their songs, further popularizing its unique sound​​​​.

Purchasing a Kalimba

For those interested in owning this melodious instrument, several online stores offer quality Kalimbas:

  • Kalimba Magic

  • Amazon

  • Thomann

Kalimba Performances Online

To experience the enchanting sound of the Kalimba, explore these online performances:

  • April Yang's Kalimba Covers

  • Thomasina's Kalimba Performances

The Kalimba's Timeless Appeal

The Kalimba is more than just a musical instrument; it is a bridge connecting ancient African musical traditions to the contemporary world. Its melodic charm and cultural significance continue to captivate musicians and listeners alike, making it a treasured instrument in the global music scene.


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