Music blog

12 July 2013

Lamellophones on Europeana

The Europeana portal is an aggregation of objects, images and manuscripts from over 2,200 content providers from all over Europe. This means that a search for a particular type of object can yield a large amount of data.

Take for example the African instrument, the mbira. The mbira is an instrument made of lamellae - long strips of wood, cane or metal - which are attached to a board or box and which vibrate when plucked. The same kind of effect can be achieved by holding a ruler over the edge of a table and plucking its free end.

The generic name for this instrument is lamellophone or lamellaphone, but often mbira is used as a generic name as well. A search for mbira on Europeana will yield around 90 objects from different collections around Europe. A search for lamellophone will yield even more - about 890 objects. The lamellophone we see here is courtesy of the Musik & Teater Museet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Lulimba, courtesy of Musik & Teater Museet

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This lamellophone is from the region of South West Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia and is known as a lulimba or ulimba. Unlike other lamellophones, the lamellae are driven into solid wood rather than being fastened to the front of the instrument using a bridge. Once these lamellae have been driven into the wood, that's it - they can't be retuned. The tuning is usually pentatonic with the lamellae arranged in the shape of a v, with the lowest note at the centre.

To hear examples of different types of lamellophones being played, please go to the British Library "Sounds" website and try putting "lamellophone" into the search box. Or, you can search our Sound and Moving Catalogue for further details about ulimbas, ilimbas, kalimbas and other lamellophones.



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