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1
All Blues
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Kahil El'Zabar, Ernest Dawkins, Joseph Bowie
07:08
2
Jarabi
Yasmin Williams
03:33
3
Kouelohélé
Antoine Moundanda, Papa Kourand, Raphael Mahela
00:29
4
Zvichapera
Chiwoniso
04:05
5
Hopprock
Madlib
03:27
6
One Love (feat. Q-Tip)
Nas, Q-Tip
05:25
7
Tam Wouah
Jack Djeyim
03:47
8
Kalimba Story
Earth, Wind & Fire
04:02
9
Mother Africa
Santana
05:55
10
Uhuru
Ramsey Lewis Trio
02:15
11
Soré ga mo (I) [The Tree of Peace]
Bernard Barbu, Raymond 'Doko, Arone Singa, Daniel Ngda'dikè, Etienne Ngbozo, Robert Tarapai
03:08
12
Nguya
Lulendo
03:44
13
Soif Conjugale
Kisanzi Congo
07:19
14
Kalimba
Taj Mahal
02:02
15
Life B
John Klemmer
02:28
16
For Our Souls
Doug Hammond
03:21
17
Kalimba Call
Joachim Kühn, Majid Bekkas, Ramon Lopez
04:49
18
Kalimba
Archie Shepp, Jasper Van't Hof
03:39
19
Twirling
Roland P. Young
06:20
20
Njuzu - Remastered
Stella Chiweshe
03:35
21
Magabe retro - Version sophistiquée
Pierre Didy Tchakounté
12:45
22
After Glow
Nadi Qamar
02:17
23
Funky Wood
Oneness Of Juju
01:18
24
Caminey
Monnette Sudler
05:14
25
Sanza tristesse
Francis Bebey
03:45
26
Nina - Live at Philharmonic Hall, NYC - July 1973
Nina Simone
04:14
27
The Minstrel
Philip Cohran & The Artistic Heritage Ensemble, Pete Cosey, Louis Satterfield, Don Myrick
09:37
28
Love Supreme (For John Coltrane)
Wadada Leo Smith
04:01
29
Atuka Mhondoro 808 - Radio Edit
Jacob Mafuleni, Gary Gritness
03:41

Mbira Magic

A tour of the different ways in which the sub-Saharan thumb piano has been employed, from reimagined versions of “All Blues” to “Love Supreme”.

Mbira, sanza, kalimba, likembe, the sub-Saharan ‘thumb piano’ has many names, different sizes and number of scales depending on its region of origin, but its crystalline sound has been captivating ears since time immemorial. The first evidence of this instrument, which had bamboo blades, dates back over 3000 years to the Atlantic coast of Africa, and the oldest instruments with steel blades have been found around the Zambezi River dating from over 1300 years ago. It was also here, in present-day Zimbabwe, that the Shona culture developed and its mbira orchestras of all sizes influenced the whole continent.

The African-American musical community adopted the instrument in the 1960s under the influence of Nadi Qamar, a pianist who recorded with Charles Mingus, Oscar Pettiford and Buddy Colette before devoting himself to promoting the mbira, as well as a host of other African percussion instruments. “After Glow” is taken from one of his albums for the Smithsonian Institute, the organisation that preserves the treasures of the nation’s sound heritage.  

But it was Maurice White, the leader of Earth Wind & Fire, who introduced the instrument to the general public. He played it constantly on recordings and in concerts throughout his career. Philip Corhan, one of the fathers of the Association For The Advancement of Creative Musicians in Chicago, with whom White had practised in his youth, also championed it. Numerous musicians used it’s sound, from Nina Simone to Wadada Leo Smith, and even blues artist Taj Mahal played it on one track.

Soon the Cameroonian Francis Bebey was devoting long sessions to it. The recordings he made at his home have achieved cult status amongst sound afficienadoes. He was not the last to move this ‘ancient’ instrument into a future setting: Nas samples it on what remains his best album to date, Madlib found it a useful way to musically portray his strange escapes, while the Congotronics played the electric likembe in the heart of Kinshasa. In February 2021, the young American folk singer Yasmin Williams added it to her arsenal of instruments, with stunning results.

Nowadays, kalimbas westernised by English musicologist Hugh Tracey or "more authentic" thumb pianos can be found in every music shop in the world, proof if any were needed that this instrument has entered the world stage.

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