Mark Holdaway,
Between the Light & the Dark
(Kalimba Magic, 2006)

As the Kalimba Magic site says, "The kalimba is an ancient instrument from Africa, simply made from a wooden box and a few tines of flattened metal." The instrument is called the "piano of Africa," also known on that continent as a mbira.

Instead of my describing what it sounds like, you can hear Mark Holdaway's playing as you open the Kalimba Magic website. On Between the Light & the Dark, however, Holdaway does not play African music. He plays more in a new-age style, although this CD does not suffer from the blandness of much of that genre. Holdaway is accompanied by guitar, mandolin, mandola, bass, drums and percussion.

A kalimba can only play a limited number of notes. Holdaway overcomes its limitations by using alto, treble and pentatonic kalimbas, as well as the karimba (a similar instrument). On the last track he overdubs himself with four kalimbas and a marimbula (more or less a bass kalimba).

The 15 instrumentals (all but "The Peanut Vendor," written by Holdaway) have pleasant melodies with fine musicianship. Of course, Holdaway's playing is unique, since there are few non-African kalimba CDs.

Not only can he play well, but he changes instruments and musical settings so the kalimba varies from track to track. The lengths vary from 90 seconds to seven minutes. The longest is "Morocco," which has a haunting Middle Eastern feel.

Five of the tracks are from Playing the Pentatonic Kalimba and Playing the Hugh Tracey Karimba. Although these tracks are showpieces for the instrument, they can stand on their own for their uniqueness and evocative quality.

review by
Dave Howell

8 December 2007

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