Kalimbas (Mbiras, Sansas, Likembes, Thumb Pianos, Finger Harps)
Kalimbas (also called mbiras, sansas, likembes or thumb pianos) are a plucked idiophone unique to Africa and widely distributed throughout the continent. It is commonly played as an accompaniment to song, but in some areas it is used for purely instrumental music. Kalimbas have played a part in African culture for 800 years. After work in the evening, Africans sit in a circle, tell beautiful stories, sing and play kalimba. They are also used to pass the time on long journeys on foot.
The kalimba consists of a set of tuned metal or bamboo tongues of varying length fitted to a board, box or calabash resonator, their free ends being twanged by the player's thumbs and fingers. Board mounted kalimbas are often played inside gourds or bowls for increased resonance. The sound of a kalimba is both rich and intimate - somewhat like a steel drum or marimba or xylophone, but with a character of its own - and goes well with guitar, flute, or any hand percussion - or more kalimbas. There are serious jazz groups that feature kalimbas, and colleges offer courses that include performance and the culture of the kalimba. The kalimba is a serious instruments, not a toy.