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The kalimba, known as a thumb piano in the West, is a lamellaphone of Eastern Central and South West Africa. There are a variety of similar instruments by other names (eg. mbira) in other regions of Africa. The kalimba is made from a box or calabash, covered with a flat wooden top and a number of wooden or metal keys. Often the metal keys were made from old spoon handles, bicycle spokes or spring wire that were cut and hammered to the desired shape. The keys are plucked with the thumbs, or with combinations of thumbs and fingers.

Traditionally used to accompany singing in Africa, the kalimba was relatively easy to play, and became popular in the West for instrumental music. However, the sound of the kalimba is now found on most digital samplers so the real instrument is starting to disappear. The instrument pictured is from Kenya.

Country: Various
Region: Africa
Type: percussion
©  R. Raine-Reusch, May 2002