About AMI African Marimbas

AMI Marimbas trace their ancestry to traditional African instruments from Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi, but the concept of ensemble marimbas, in this form, was developed in the 1960s, in Zimbabwe, where there was no previous marimba playing tradition. The idea was to develop instruments that would provide interest, focus, a creative outlet and ultimately marketable skills for young people in that country. Marimbas specifically were chosen as a way of avoiding perceived ethnic favoritism.

Click here to see the marimba product catalogue.

Very quickly Marimbas became established in mainstream music; adopted by the church, youth and social groups, recording artists and by performers to the tourist industry. Introduced into South Africa though the Catholic Church, they have also caught on here, especially in schools and universities. Marimba festivals showcase a vibrant marimba community. A growing number of professional Marimba bands as well as school pupils and teachers attest to the success of the instruments in music programmes. The appeal of marimbas is that they are designed to be played as a group. While individual marimbas may be purchased, a suggested minimum for a group would be a set of 3 instruments; SOPRANO, TENOR and BARITONE. To this may be added a PICCOLO which brings the set up to the most common and popular 4 marimba format. A DOUBLE BASS marimba is also available for lower bass support. Different instrument roles become obvious, with the Soprano usually taking the lead or melody line, the Tenor taking up the rhythm and the Baritone playing the bass line. The Piccolo may double the melody, or add extra rhythm and chords. Both the Soprano and the Tenor are long enough to accommodate 2 players at once, so a set of 3 instruments could accommodate 5 players.

AMI’s current line-up of marimbas all feature steel frames which incorporate folding legs to enable the instruments to be transported easily and without damage. Each marimba is supplied with its own matching set of beaters (mallets). This matching is important because lower notes require bigger mallet heads of a softer material, and higher notes need smaller, harder mallet heads. The heads are designed to be reused should the mallet sticks be broken during robust performances.

“The inspiration came from the silimba xylophones played by the Lozi people in Zambia, the timbila of the Chopi of southern Mozambique, and the valimba of the Sena of central Mozambique...”

These are the original design concept, featuring diatonic keyboards in C major, with an F# included in the same keyboard. This allows the playing in 2 major keys – C and G. Because of the differences in western well-tempered and traditional even-tempered scales, we also produce Marimba sets with what we call Xhosa tuning, where notes marked C are tuned to Eb. (This simplifies staff-notated arrangements, which can be played easily on either tuning.) Traditional African musicians prefer the harmonies from this scale, and also appreciate that the pitch is better for vocal accompaniment.

A logical progression from the diatonic marimbas, these sets are in increasing demand from opera companies performing African / Western fusion arrangements. They are full chromatic instruments with the sharps and flats laid out as in a piano, but with the chromatic keyboard slanted towards the player to reduce the distance and thus the reach needed to play these keys. Apart from opera companies, these instruments are often ordered by secondary schools, here players have graduated from a junior marimba program and want to integrate more with the other musical activities.

AMI Marimbas are highly versatile and can adapt to many styles and ways of playing music, from traditional African songs and instrumental tunes to western and Afro-fusion, reggae and even western classical music. Each marimba is supplied with its own specific pair of beaters.



Music in the making


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