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.

Malawi to ban farting?

malawi ban farting

Malawi doesn’t make it into the news often. The relatively small southeastern African country, close to Honduras in size, has a population of around 15 million. According to the International Monetary Fund and the CIA World Factbook, Malawi is one of the world’s five poorest countries in terms of per capita income.

All that should change for the next week or so, however, due to the ban on farting currently under debate in the country. Yes, you read that correctly, and I’ll repeat. The adoption of a bill prohibiting farting is under consideration in Malawi.

Or is it? There seems to be some disagreement over what the bill would actually prohibit. The BBC reported this morning on a feud between two government officials over the bill, which would aim to turn pollution of the atmosphere “in any place so as to make it noxious to the public” into a misdemeanor. Justice Minister George Chaponda has interpreted the bill to extend to farting, while Solicitor General Anthony Kamanga insists that it should be interpreted as referring exclusively to pollution.

It would be a shame if this scuffle were to derail Malawi’s growth as a destination for tourists. The country’s profile as a tourist destination is currently rising and it’s not difficult to understand why. Malawi boasts beach lodges along Lake Malawi and national parks teeming with wildlife, with Liwonde National Park in the south of the country and Nyika National Park in the north particularly noteworthy.
[Image: Flickr | frankdouwes]

Photo of the Day – Tour d’Afrique

The 2011 Tour d’Afrique is officially underway! Just three days ago, more than 120 cyclists set off from Cairo, Egypt on a four month, 7,375 mile race across the world’s most exotic and alluring continent. The competitors will pedal through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia before aiming to arrive in Cape Town, South Africa on May 14th.

If you have the urge to drop everything and join them, you can sign up to complete one of the eight partial sections ranging in distance between 1000km and 2000km.

Today’s Photo of the Day from localsurfer isn’t of the Tour d’Afrique, but I think it’s a great illustration of how important bicycles are as a mode of transporation and heavy lifting throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. So much in fact, that a series of social enterprises are now popping up to help local African entreprenuers by building and loaning inexpensive but durable bikes.

If you have a snapshot of some heavy lifting or local ingenuity, we want to see it! Submit it to our Gadling Flickr group and it could be our next Photo of the Day!

Get out and go: Events around the world (October 15-18)

Happy Hump Day, Gadling’ers! It’s time to look at the festivals and events happening around the world, and this week has a particularly international selection of happenings. If you’re close and have time, then you have no excuse to get out and go!

  • Islamabad – The Hot Air Ballooning Competition in Pakistan begins this Thursday, October 15 and ends on the 18th.
  • MalawiLake of Stars: This special music festival takes place on the shores of Lake Malawi. The festival begins on Thursday, October 15 and lasts through the 18th.
  • New ZealandWanakafest 2009: The Wanakafest, a fun festival that includes urban downhill biking, bike back flips, snowboard rail jam, music, waterfront events, a fashion show, a food and wine fair and a street parade among other things begins this Thursday, October 15 and ends on the 18th.
  • PittsburghInternational Gay and Lesbian Film Festival: Pittsburgh’s an annual celebration of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered writers, directors, actors and their work begins this Friday, October 16, and continues until October 25th.
  • Delhi – Diwalli, the Festival of Lights, will be held this Saturday, October 17. It is a colorful celebration of the victory of the good within people over evil. Traditionally people give gifts to family, friends and employees, making Delhi a bustling marketplace.
  • Shanghai – The 10th Annual China Shanghai International Arts Festival begins this Sunday, October 18 and runs until the 23rd. The performing arts fair, a major sector of the festival, is the largest and most effective performing arts market of its kind in China.
  • Sao PaoloGrande Premio do Brasil: Brazil’s featured Formula 1 car race will be held this Sunday, October 18 at 2 p.m.

If you make it to one of these events, let us know how it was, or if you know of an even that’s coming up, please let us here at Gadling know and we’ll be sure to include it in the next “Get out and go” round-up.

‘Til next week, have a great weekend — the first of October!

Tour d’Afrique Off and Running!

The 2009 edition of the Tour d’Afrique got underway last Sunday, with cyclists setting out from Cairo, Egypt on a 7317 mile long race to Cape Town, South Africa. In between they’ll pass through the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia, fostering international goodwill along the way, while raising funds for environmental protection and promoting cycling in Africa.

The race is broken down into 96 stages of various lengths, with a typical day getting underway at 7:30 AM, when the top riders start out on the course. They are soon followed by another group who may not be contending for the top spot, but still want to complete every mile, while the “Back Pack” is made up of a group of riders who just want to enjoy the adventure and soak up some of the culture of the countries they are passing through.

This is the seventh year that the race has been run, and the web coverage seems to be the best ever. For instance, there are photos from each stage, videos from the various countries and introductions for some of the riders, and a daily blog with results and news from the course.

With six stages done, the riders have more than three months of riding ahead of them through a variety of climates and terrains before reaching their final destination on May 9th. They’ll struggle through the Sahara Desert, roll across the Equator, and race across an endless savannah, and they each payed more than $10,000 for the privledge. Seems like it’s an adventure worth every penny.