Video: kalimba player in Malawi

One thing that consistently amazes me while traveling in Africa is how the people are able to create musical instruments out of just about anything. Take the kora, for example. This West African stringed instrument is made from a gourd and fishing line.

Another popular instrument is the thumb piano, or “lamellophone” for all you musicologists out there. It’s a small wooden plate or box with strips of metal of different lengths on it. These are plucked with the thumb to make different notes. A bit of scrounging in any African town can get you the parts for a thumb piano in less than an hour. Because they’re light and easy to make, they are popular with the griots, Africa’s wandering troubadours. They’re also popular with kids because it’s easy to learn the basics.

The thumb piano is called different names by different people, like kalimba or mbira. In Ethiopia, where I saw them being played, the instrument is called a tom. I bought one for my kid when he was five and he loves it. In fact, it was the first instrument he learned how to play. Unlike the recorder, which he’s learning now in school, nobody taught him how to play the tom, he simply figured it out for himself, and that’s much more fun.

Check out this video of a kalimba player in Malawi, who’s so good a bird starts singing along with him! I’d love to know the words to his song.

SkyMall Monday: Beamz Interactive Music System

You simply don’t hear very many people complaining about the lack of new instruments being invented. Basically, since we electrified the guitar, we’ve been set with all of the instruments that humanity needs. Granted, converting turntables from music players to music makers was pretty ingenious, but it wasn’t necessarily the invention of an instrument. At this point, we’re set for making music. Yet, this week’s SkyMall Monday features the quintessential SkyMall instrument because it, of course, has lasers. Sit back and enjoy the melodious seduction of the Beamz Interactive Music System.skymall monday gadling beamz interactive music systemWe’re long overdue for an instrument that combines the digital presets of a synthesizer with the hair growth-encouraging powers of lasers. Previously, only John Tesh was able to create riffs that simultaneously mesmerized and annoyed listeners. Now, however, we can all produce the kind of smooth adult contemporary jams that dentists’ offices so desperately need.

Think that lasers have no business in music? Believe that instruments should not be called “interactive music systems?” Well, while you play the triangle, we’ll be reading the product description:

Don’t just listen to your favorite music — join the band! You don’t have to be a musician — with the Beamz, anyone can steal the show.

Pass a hand or finger through the laser beams to jazz up your favorite tunes with hundreds of sounds.

No longer does listening to music need to be a passive activity. Finally, you can “jazz up” the songs that were produced by professional musicians with your own laser-induced ideas.

But, you don’t just have to alter existing songs. Once you become proficient in the Beamz Interactive Music System, you can create your own masterpieces that will enthrall your friends and confuse your grandparents. I, for one, look forward to hearing your laser tunes the next time I’m walking through a shopping mall.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Postcards from Trinidad: Six

Well it’s Carnival Saturday and here I am spending this early part of the afternoon with you on Gadling. After two nights of fetes I figured I’d play it by ear tonight and just mellow out for the rest of the afternoon. With that being said here is a shot from the pan lime me and a group of folks checked out a couple night’s back. Taken in the Desperadoes pan yard, where the band played a melody over and over striving for perfection, the drums from which this older gentleman plays produced a deep rich sound full of bass. While I haven’t been following the pan competitions much, I’m told the Desperadoes placed third in one of their last and are really trying to step their pan game up.