Kalimbawu ~ Chromatic Thumb Piano

Kalimbawu By Simon Jepps
The Kalimbawu or Double Kalimba
It took a long time, but in the end my years of research, pouring over numerous photos of various different kinds of thumb pianos eventually paid off.

Here is my invention, the Kalimbawu.

It gets its name by borrowing the term “Ba wu” from the Chinese flute of that name, meaning “him” and “her”.

Whilst not a reed instrument, the metal tongues of the Kalimba do resemble the shape of the Bawu flute’s reed. Also as I will explain, the Kalimbawu features two voices, one male and one female.

If that’s not an excuse, the word just works!

The Kalimba, also referred to as a “thumb piano”, is a modern variant of the African Mbira, developed by Hugh Tracey and which features a Westernised tuning system.

There are two main types of Kalimba: box mounted and board mounted.

Box mounted Kalimbas harbour a resonating chamber, which provides more volume and tonal effects.

Board mounted Kalimbas do not harbour a resonating chamber, but may be placed inside a gourd to create similar acoustics.

What I have done here, is join two board mounted Kalimbas together, back to back, securing them with colourful hair bands.

One is tuned to the standard C Major scale, the other is tuned to the C# Major scale.

Having these two scales at my finger tips enables me to play completely chromatically throughout two and a half octaves.

Believe it or not but it is actually quite easy to learn!

Indeed reversing the Kalimba will mean the scale progresses in an opposite direction to its partner. However, in actual fact whence tuned chromatically, this is a perfect set up, because the western tuning of the Kalimba naturally dictates an opposing system of ascent and descent.

By design, each note rises from left to right of the keyboard, rather than in a succession in one line.

This means reversing a Kalimba by joining it to another, naturally provides a continuation of the scale whence tuned chromatically.

For example, the note G# is directly opposite the note G and precisely one tone inwards behind the note A.

So, excepting the root C/C#, the sharper or flatter note is always to the opposite side, or one tone inwards, depending on the Maj/Min Key of play, and as a natural continuation of the existing Kalimba system.

Et, whola, finally what every Kalimba player has been looking for… the chromatic thumb piano at an affordable price!

As mentioned, I employed two board mounted Kalimbas rather than box mounted. This is because a box mounted Kalimba is much deeper in size and thus it would be impossible to hold two, let alone play them.

That said, it might be a project to create a new kind of box mount. Hmm, who knows.

Nevertheless and in utmost honesty, the Kalimbawu plays beautifully, its volume is suitable for personal use and I often incorporate it into my meditations.

Of course, when considering performance scenarios… there’s always a microphone!

If you play thumb piano and like my invention, pease do drop a message below.


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