Commonly called the African piano, the kalimba is the commercial version of a traditional Zimbabwean instrument known as the mbira, which dates back thousands of years. That said, a brand-new high-tech tool has been designed to teach people how to play the thing.
Modern-day kalimbas consist of a row of tensioned metal tines, attached to a wooden board. Musical notes are produced by plucking those tines with the thumbs and fingers. And while kalimba instructors certainly do exist, they’re not as easy to find as instructors for more widely played instruments – particularly in smaller non-African communities.
That’s where the KalimbaGo is intended to come in. Created by Toronto-based startup Evie Innotech, it’s a Wi-Fi-connected OLED touchscreen device that slides onto the tine bridge of most commercially available 17-tine kalimbas. Guided by onscreen prompts, users start by aligning its display to the layout of their instrument’s tines.
From there, they can download their choice of a number of popular songs from a dedicated cloud-based music library. In a dancing-video-game-like style, the notes of those songs are visualized as descending LEDs , which drop from the top of the KalimbaGo’s screen down to the tine that needs to be plucked.
As their proficiency improves, users can increase the speed at which the notes drop. Additionally, although plans call for new songs to be regularly added to the library, users can also utilize an accompanying app to convert songs of their choice into KalimbaGo-friendly tablature files.
And as an added bonus, because the device has an integrated microphone, it can be used to guide users as they periodically tune the tines of their kalimba. Power is provided by two user-supplied AAA batteries, which reportedly ought to be good for eight hours of playtime.
Should you be interested, the KalimbaGo is presently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. Assuming it reaches production, a pledge of CAD$88 (about US$70) will get you a device along with a 17-key kalimba – the planned retail price for that package is US$99. Down the road, people who already have a kalimba should be able to purchase the KalimbaGo on its own.
It can be seen in use, in the following video.