The kalimba,k or African thumb piano

The kalimba is a modern version of the African percussion instrument Mbira or thumb piano. To many Westerners it makes a “plink, plink, plink” sound when plucked. But when Mark Holdaway plays the kalimba, “it takes me away from the craziness of the world and into a place of ancient peace.”

Holdaway will give a kalimba lecture-demonstration at 3:30 p.m. Thursday (June 8) in the Arizona Senior Academy’s Great Room.

A multi-instrumentalist, Holdaway finds time to play guitar and other instruments in local ensembles, but he says his main love is the kalimba. He runs a website ( devoted to selling and promoting kalimbas and popularizes the instrument with You Tube videos that have had 4.2 million views.  He has written several instructional books and made a kalimba CD, “Two Thumbs Up.”

The kalimba (sometimes spelled karimba) – or more precisely the kalimba’s traditional relatives in Africa – was used historically to connect to the spirits of the ancestors. Today it is more symbolic than ceremonial.

Mark Holdaway

Holdaway’s grandmother introduced him to a thumb piano when he was 2 years old. After graduating from college in the 1980s he had a chance encounter with a kalimba player. Captivated by its sound, he bought one and began teaching himself how to play.

“And then,” he says, “one morning while pouring milk into my coffee, a waking dream filled my head and heart: a vision of me as the ambassador of the kalimba to the world! A vision of one million people, making music with their hands, with joy in their hearts and peace on earth.”

Commercially produced mbiras have been exported from South Africa since the 1950s, popularizing the instrument outside of Africa. Today, Kalimbas continue to be handcrafted in a family run workshop in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer


Meet the Kalimba’s ‘Ambassador to the World’:June2017
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