The Kalimba is a musical instrument that originated in eastern and southern Africa at least 1,500 years ago. It is also known as the Mbira, the Lamellophone and the Thumb Piano. The instrument is a wooden board fitted with a resonator. It has staggered metal tines attached. It is played held in the hands of the player who plucks the tines with the thumbs and forefingers. In many African cultures the Mbira (as it is mostly called) was played during rituals in the hopes of attracting the spirits of ancestors. Today the Mbira is the national instrument of Zimbabwe. Dr. Hugh Tracey, an English ethnomusicologist, travelled to Africa often beginning in the 1920’s studying African music. He was transfixed by the Mbira. He began building his own Mbira. In the late 1950’s he manufactured them under the name Kalimba and sold them. During the 1960’s Tracey’s sons recorded a popular song with the Kalimba. Soon other musical artists were using the Kalimba to record their music, particularly Thomas Mapfuma also known as “The Lion of Zimbabwe and Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire. Use of the Kalimba in western and european music is still popular today. Kalimba enthusiasts often like to play along to popular songs on their Kalimba. The Kalimba’s simple, charming meladic, relaxing sounds can make any song better.
10. “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion
Celine Dion’s hit ballad “My Heart Will Go On” is the soundtrack for James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster movie “Titanic”. The song was composed by James Homer and is in the key of E Major. The song reflects the theme of “Titanic”, the re-imagined personal stories of the true life sinking of the “unsinkable” ocean liner that hit an iceberg and sunk in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. Of the 2,224 passengers aboard, 1,500 lives were lost. The movie tells the story of young lovers who meet on board the ship. The tone of the song and the emotions it evokes can be reflected with the Kalimba.
9. “Closer” by The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey
One of the 10 best songs to play the Kalimba is “Closer” by The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey. The hit song for the DJ musicians, Drew Taggart and Alex Pall, stayed at the #1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart for 12 consecutive weeks when it was released in 2016. The song is recorded in the A Flat Major key and features distinctive chord progression. The song’s style is “future bass” mixed with pop. Its tone of the song can lead one to escape from the day’s problems which lends itself perfectly to the spiritual tones of the Kalimba.
8. “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots
Twenty One Pilot’s “Heathens” was released as the soundtrack of DC Comic’s superhero film “Suicide Squad” in 2016. The song is classic Twenty One Pilots style while still being appropriate for a superhero movie. It can be described as rap rock with elements of industrial and dark wave music. It’s moderate tempo and E minor K lend it nicely to play on the Kalimba. The lyric “take it slow” instantly connects it to a spiritual instrument like the Kalimba.
7. “Game of Thrones” Theme Song
The dramatic, emotional, spiritual instrumental theme song to “The Game of Thrones” plays perfectly on the Kalimba. The song was composed by Ramin Djawadi for the award winning HBO fantasy series. It is meant to reflect the different characters and plot lines of the television series. The “Game of Thrones” theme song won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series in both 2018 and 2019. It was featured in a series of concerts and has been covered in non-medieval versions by several indie bands.
6. “Memories” by Maroon 5
2019’s “Memories” by Maroon 5 is a reggae pop song mixed with soul. It is based on seventeenth century composer Johan Pachelbel’s melodic “Canon In D”. The song featured bassist Madden. The members of Maroon 5 have said that the inspiration for the song was the loss of the band’s manager and good friend Jodan Feldstein. The song is meant to express the mingled feelings of loss that the band felt during this time and the feelings we all feel at some points. As the Kalimba was used to express connection to the spirits to bring back ancestors, it is appropriate the instrument works well with “Memories”.
5. “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran
The ballad “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran became an instant chart topper when it was released in 2017. The song lends easily to different styles so it is a great one to play on the Kalimba. Sheeran released three different versions of the song. Following the success of the first version, he recorded the song “Perfect Duet” with Beyoncé. Sheeran recorded a second duet “Perfect Symphony” with Italian singer Andrea Bocelli.
4. “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd
The Weekend’s hit 2019 single “Blinding Lights” is a synth pop song recorded in the key of F Dorian. The single was ranked top on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 2020 and was named Best Performing Global Single. It is one of the most streamed songs of 2020. The hit has three official mixes. These include one by the electronic band Chromatics, the electric dance Major Lazer and one featuring singer songwriter Rosalia. Obviously the song does well with different translations so it is great when played on the Kalimba.
3. “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra
“Fly Me to the Moon” is a classic song that plays nicely on the Kalimba. While the most popular version is sung by Frank Sinatra which he released in 1964, it is actually a cover of the original. The song was written by Bart Howard in 1954 and recorded by Kaye Ballard. The song would be made into many versions over the next decade and recorded by different artists. Singers including Eydie Gormé, Johnny Mathis and Connie Francis recorded jazz and cabernet versions. Joe Harnell recorded a Bossa Nova style instrumental version.
2. “Hymn For the Weekend” by Coldplay featuring Beyoncé
Coldplay’s hit 2015 Indie Rhythm and Blues single “Hymn for the Weekend” translates beautifully on the Kalimba. The song is written in C Minor. The song features Beyoncé as well as Indian Bollywood actress Sonam K Ahuje. “Hymn For the Weekend” has topped global charts. “Hymn For the Weekend’s” culture of India’s theme sounds make it one of the most interesting songs to play on the Kialimba.
1. “Sit Still, Look Pretty” by Daya
Daya’s “Sit Still, Look Pretty” is a favorite for Kalimba players and one of the best pop songs to play on the instrument. There are several easy to learn tutorials. This 2015 syncho pop song was written by Gino Barletta, Mike Campbell and Britten Newbill and is in the key of D. The song about female empowerment is beautiful. It was featured in the movie “Pitch Perfect 3” about a female acapella group.