Kalimba is an African instrument traditionally made from a hardwood tree. The name Kalimba is derived from the word “kalima” which means long. This instrument is said to have been brought to Zimbabwe by the Dutch when they established their trade during the 19th century. It was then given the western name African mahogany.


Kalimba is a particular family of mallets, traditionally belonging to the Shona indigenous group of Zimbabwe. They consist of a thick hardwood board with attached small metal tines, held in hand by plucking with the right hand, or by holding both hands and gently tapping the tine with the fingers, the left hand, whilst stroking the wood with the right forefinger and the left thumb. Other names for this instrument are: “manganga”, “taba”, and “dikana”. The playing techniques used differ slightly between the two groups of communities, but they generally involve plucking and stroking using the thumb, with the exception of the left hand when it is used. Most ivory mallets in circulation are of three or four strings.

The tuning of the kalimba is based on octave (the highest note that will ring out) scales. There are eleven diatonic scales, seven of which can be found in the open position. So the scale form can be C, G, D, A, E, B, C, D, A, G, E, B, D. The notes which are found are:

In some older versions of the kalimba there were three horizontal strings, which would change the timbre and sound slightly different when compared to the twelve-tone scales. This problem was solved somewhat in later instruments by introducing the use of alternate tunings, where two adjacent strings could be tuned to different tunings, by moving the adjacent tines up or down by a few notes. In some cases the alternate tunings were coupled with louder sounds, such as those made by nylon pipes, to create an extra sensation of sound. However, many authorities maintain that it is not the use of these alternations, which improves the quality of the sound, but rather the adjacent tones themselves which improve the quality. It is widely accepted that any instrument that produces more notes at one octave than another does not necessarily make the instrument superior.

Kalimba is the name given to an ancient, bulky, dark colored African musical instrument which was used in some traditional African cultures as part of the drumming systems. The instrument was also used in other music of the continent for the purpose of signaling to other tribes. The kalimba is a hollow bodyed instrument, made from wood, horn, or metal, and which usually weighs around fifty pounds. However, it can be made from a wide range of materials, including ceramics, metals like bronze or iron, and plastic.

The world-famous Kalimba is closely related to the ubiquitous short people of Zimbabwe who also play the African traditional musical instruments. It appears that the two musical instruments have their roots in the same place, namely the Kalima tribe of Zanzibar. The history of the Kalimba is closely linked to that of the short people of Zimbabwe, with whom the latter created the early forms of the guitar and the kalimba. Both groups started playing the kalimba around the same time, although the show did not invent the instrument.

The first version of the kalimba was discovered in a cave in southeastern Tanzania, which contained artifacts made from horn, bone, ivory, wood, seeds, nuts and other parts. In fact, much of the earliest artwork of this African ethnic instrument was found in a cave in Lake Tanganyika, a wetland area on the shores of the Indian Ocean, about forty kilometres from the city of Kilimanjaro. A carved stone carving of a man holding a Kalimba and a woman, apparently, atop the neck of the latter, reveals the beginning of the relationship between the two African ethnic groups. It is also possible to date the discovery of the kalimba from the third century AD, although precise dates remain unknown.

The Kalimba, also called the gravikord, was probably invented around the same time as the kalimba. However, it must have been around much earlier, since it is mentioned as an old instrument by the Assyrians and Egyptians in their literature. It is also believed that the ancient Egyptians used the gravikord in their sacred temple concerts as instruments of magic. One ancient Greek musical instrument, the megaphone, may have borrowed the shape and appearance of the Kalimba, while the Chinese regarded the device as a talisman or amulet, both referring to its healing powers.