About AMI Kalimbas

The mbira, or ‘thumb-piano’ is a traditional African instrument, well known in many parts of Africa. It was the favourite instrument of pioneering musicologist, Hugh Tracey, who first heard it as a young man while farming in Zimbabwe in the 1920’s. He loved its originality, its companionship and the fascination of its crossing finger and sound patterns. For him,the essence of African music was encapsulated in this small, lively instrument that fitted comfortably into your hands. Wanting to share his discovery, in the 1950’s he developed his own version, the Kalimba and tuned it to a western scale to enable musicians all over the world to enjoy the instrument.

Click here to see the kalimba catalogue.

Now, many years later, the original Hugh Tracey Kalimba ‘thumb piano’, still sets the standard. The body is made, like the African originals, from resonant Kiaat wood, and the keys, which you pluck with your thumbs, are high quality spring steel. It can be played solo or accompanied and its clear tone holds its own remarkably well against voices or other instruments. It is the ideal portable instrument for use at home, school, in formal and informal music groups, for music therapy, at camps, while hitchhiking or sick in bed. Kalimbas are tuned to the diatonic scale of G major although they can be retuned to any key. They come with instruction cards giving hints on tuning, melody and chord playing. There are six different Kalimba models, some with a hollow box body (referred to below as “box based”) and others with a plain wooden board body (referred to below as “board based”). Board based kalimbas are most often built onto a trapezoid shaped tapered wooden board, but we also produce instruments with Alto and Karimba tuning in our trademark shape, based on the traditional African design reflected in our kalimba logo.

Kalimbas made with a hollow resonating box body are great for acoustic performance, and allow the player to add vibrato and expression by moving their fingers over the tone holes on the back of the box. Celeste Kalimbas on a plain board base have a quieter, more intimate sound, but are less bulky for small hands. Both types are available with pick-ups, enabling amplification.

With its resonating box body and a note range spanning just over 2 octaves (B-1 to D2), the Treble is a good place to start learning kalimba. Its clear tone combines well with voice or other instruments.

This is the lower toned version of the treble, with a 2 octave note range (G-1 to G1). Its mellow sound is often used as voice accompaniment and it is our most popular model.

This board based kalimba is the simpler model of the Treble, with the same (B-1 to D2) note range.

The board based Alto Kalimba (G-1 to G1), also available with the more decorative ‘Trade Mark’ traditional shaped body.

With 11 widely spaced notes, this kalimba is aimed at children, but has proved very popular with musicians looking to explore the simplicity of pentatonic instruments. Note range is (G-1 to G1 – pentatonic).

This is the Diatonic version of the 11 note kalimba, with a note range from D0 to G1

This is an even simpler kalimba, developed in response to requests by Mark Holdaway, our US agent, for a single octave instrument for children. It features a traditionally shaped board base and a simpler pressure bar. Range: C0 to C+1

“They have proved so popular that they are now played all over Southern Africa. They were brought to Catholic schools and churches in South Africa by Br. Kurt Huwiler and Fr. Dave Dargie in the early 1980s, and quickly spread to cultural clubs, chools, and to several professional groups who have made their names around the world with them...”


Music in the making


External Links

Kalimba Magic
Mark Holdaway's enchanting Kalimba Magic site, your first stop for Kalimba resources, contacts and news.