In this category we introduce musical instruments in our shop. We write about our favourite instruments and we present the most exciting new instruments in our shop here.
  • The Kalimbas from the workshop of Peter Hokema

    In Germany kalimbas are produced at the workshop of Peter Hokema. Within this family business he has been making these instruments with excellent quality since 1985. Kalimbas by Hokema are made in a pentatonic tuning. One can play very well on these instruments without any musical educational background, because all of the keys match each other. “Wrong keys” are practically impossible.

    Peter Hokema even developed three different kinds of kalimbas. There is the sansula with the lamellas attached to a hide which is stretched over a wooden frame. The “pocket kalimbas” are small models with the lamellas attached to a solid wood block. And the classical kalimba consists of a resonating body with a sound hole.

    The Sansula

    Sansulas are musical instruments which Peter Hokema developed in 2001 as an enhancement of the kalimba or mbira. The sound block of those instruments to which the tines are attached to (as is the case with the kalimba) is mounted to a membrane stretched by a wooden ring. The specialty is that the tones sound for a long time and produce a beautiful vibrato effect when for example the sansula is put onto one’s lap and one side is lifted and dropped. Sansulas evolve a warm, smooth, and voluminous sound.

    Hokema Sansula Deluxe Kalimba

    For their sound which reminds of a music box, and for the calming vibrations which emanate from these instruments, parents for example like to use the sansulas to play a lullaby for their children. This is primarily possible because the keys match each other. Therefore one can always play beautiful sounds and melodies without any musical expertise.

    The “Sansula Basic” is covered by a synthetic drumhead and available in various tunings. The “Sansula Renaissance” is more resilient. It is covered by a drumhead of the company REMO. This membrane is not only very solid and has a nice sound, but is also less vulnerable to variations of humidity. The “Sansula Deluxe” is very robust and made with a natural membrane of goatskin. This membrane can be stretched with a clamping jig. You can let kids play these instruments without worrying.

    The Kalimba

    We suggest the robust made pocket kalimbas for traveling and for kalimba beginners. The smallest kalimba is palm-sized and has five keys. The ones which are a bit bigger have seven or nine lamellas/keys. The tines of the kalimbas are attached to a solid wood block made of mahogany or American cherrywood. The sound gets amplified and more clearly when the instrument is put on a table or another hollow body, e.g. a cupboard or a drum.

    Hokema Kalimba Series

    The classical kalimba model by Hokema has nine tines/keys. The lamellas are attached to a resonating body made of wood with sound holes on the front and back side. The two little holes on the back side can be included into the playing: by covering or opening the sound holes with the moving forefingers the sound gets a special vibration, similar to a vibrato. This classical kalimba is made with high quality and neatly tuned in pentatonic A minor. The resonating body is made of solid American cherrywood which has been treated with vegetable oil. These instruments evolve an excellent sound which is similar to the sound of the original African kalimba and mbira.

  • From the toy section to the stage: How the kalimba became famous in the US and Europe

    Looking at the European museum catalogue for musical instruments MIMO (Musical Instrument Museums Online), one can find almost 170 musical instruments under the keyword “lamellaphones in Africa”. Thereby one is often very different from another one. All instruments belong to one category for which we (Non-Africans) commonly use the generic term “kalimba”. Who developed a new group of instruments out of this variety and made it possible to order them home just by mouse click? – Musical instruments originally played in African countries, but now successfully adapted to the Western scale?



    One thousand and one kalimbas

    Kalimbas from 13 different African countries in total appear in the MIMO catalogue: Angola, Malawi, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Nigeria, Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, and Gabon. But the list of those countries in which variations of the “kalimbas” are played, is still not complete. These instruments also exist in Uganda, Zambia, and Zaire. To those searching for more evidences of original kalimbas we suggest to have a look into the photographic archives of the International Library of African Music (ILAM). There are almost 100 photos under the keyword “mbira”, taken at the original places of these intruments. Very often the diverse regional names are registered: Mbira, Sansa or Zanza, Likembe, Kadongo, Nsansi, Malimba, Ulimba, Ringa, Timbrh, Lulimba, Ulimba, Kakolondondo or Madaku.

    Even these regional terms, the usage of which rather depends on the people’s local languages than on the borders of a nation state, firstly provide only guidance to the kind of instrument. Here is an example: There are several variations or types of the mbira among the Shona in Zimbabwe. Among others there is the Mbira Dza Vadzimu with 22 to 28 metal tines which is played at religious ceremonies and weddings. Furthermore there are the Mbira Njari and the Mbira Matepe. Since the 1960ies the Mbira Nyunga Nyunga as played by Abraham Dumisani Maraire has also been known.

    Ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik describes the wide-spread “kalimba” type Likembe: These instruments are said to have been spread by commercial travelers and migrant workers from Central African areas (Zaire) on their way to Angola, Zambia, Uganda, and Tanzania. They are characterized by their box-shaped resonating body which is cut out on the upper part of the back side. This recess is necessary to fix the tines by means of an iron clamp through holes and wire on the back side. There are innumerable versions of this kalimba type.

    Kalimbas at the toy section

    The development of a kalimba which became attractive for usage in Europe and North America has been awarded to ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey. Tracey lived on his brother’s tobacco farm in present-day Zimbabwe since 1921, and for decades he traveled through several countries in Southern and Central Africa. Right from the start this young man from Devonshire in England was interested in the language and culture of the local population, the Shona. Tracey appreciated the music of the Shona very much and treated it as cultural property which needed to be kept and recorded. The material which he gathered during his trips as a collector has been preserved and digitalized until today. Tracey studied the various kalimba types in Africa in detail for several years and collected all kinds of material about them. So he knew the different tunings and designs and finally began to make single instruments himself.

    Tracey experimented with various wood species and sizes. In 1954 he founded the company “African Musical Instruments” (AMI) and marketed the first kalimbas in Europe and the US. But before the first standardized musical instrument for the European and US American market was ready, they made about 100 prototypes. The first 10.000 kalimbas ended up in the department stores’ toy sections of all places in the US, because they were bought and sold by a toy company. This is an indication of the dubiety about who would at all be interested in these instruments.

    Hugh Tracey Kalimba (AMI) Hugh Tracey Kalimba (AMI)

    The kalimba becomes pop

    It was a test of patience to make the kalimba as a musical instrument known in Europe and the US. Hugh Tracey contributed to its diffusion on his lecture tours outside of Africa. The music revue “Wait a Minim” of his sons Andrew and Paul toured through Europe, Africa and North America for six years. In an interview with Mark Holdaway ( Andrew Tracey remembers how difficult it was to draw people’s interest in the kalimba. It took an awful long time for people in England to take to something new. Primarily it had been Andrew Tracey’s concern with “Wait a Minim” to generally make African music known. There had been only a few songs with kalimba in this show. But nonetheless the interest in this instrument got to a stage where a British piano manufacturer took notice of the kalimba and took over the marketing of it in Great Britain.

    In retrospect there was a first boom for the kalimba in the 1960ies. Maurice White, member of the band Earth, Wind, and Fire, played the kalimba and made it known to a wider public. The Hugh Tracey Kalimbas became established as hybrid musical instruments which combined elements from African musical cultures with current musical standards from Europe or the US: The kalimbas made for the Western market were tuned diatonically. In the music of Thomas Mapfumo the mbira has been and still is a permanent feature. When he gained attention worldwide in the 1980ies, the mbira or kalimba was brought again into public focus:

  • BITTER APRICOT needs your support

    The team of blende39 needs your support to finish the documentary film BITTER APRICOT. On the crowdfunding site Kickstarter you can support them with your donation. (link here)

    Read here what BITTER APRICOT is about in the words of blende39:

    BITTER APRICOT tells the story of a sound that mesmerizes people all over the world. The power of this music connects the whole nation of Armenians. This unique sound inspires and excites international musicians like Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel or Hans Zimmer. Like them, we’re going to search for the instrument that sparked their imagination: A flute made of apricot wood, called the Duduk (Tzirana Pogh). The man and master behind this instrument is Djivan Gasparyan. The film is a portrait of the artist who first heard the sound of the Duduk as a small boy in an open air silent movie theatre in Yerevan, who travelled through the whole of the Soviet Union as a young man and who impressed Hollywood to become an ambassador for Armenian music in the world. At Gasparyan's side is his grandson, Djivan Junior, who will take over his legacy. We're witnessing a transmission process full of love and knowledge of a tradition that is thousands of years old.

    Our first journey to Armenia began with the search for the secret of the sound of the Duduk. A sound that wasn’t familiar, but stirred something deep inside of us. When we met Djivan in Yerevan we realized that the power of his music would be a spiritual journey into the heart of the Armenian culture. Ever since we feel strongly connected to the Armenian people and their culture. Through their music we experience and understand the Armenian identity and the power of a connecting sound. Our perspective as filmmakers gives us the opportunity to be ambassadors for the music on a visual layer. In April 2015 we went to Armenia the second time. We filmed the concerts by Djivan Sr. & Djivan Jr. in commemoration of the Armenian Genozide at the memorial Tzitzernakaberd and at the Spendiarov opera. We were overwhelmed by the intense mood and energy of the Armenians in this historical moment and grateful that we had the chance to be with Djivan and all those wonderful musicians.

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