Kalimba Story

Album: Open Our Eyes (1974)
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Songfacts®:

  • A Kalimba is a tiny piano - about the size of a book - played with the thumbs. Earth, Wind & Fire leader Maurice White discovered the instrument in Chicago when a fellow musician named Phil Cohran introduced him to it in the late '60s. White, who was the drummer in the Ramsey Lewis Trio, bought a Kalimba at a Chicago drum store and learned how to play it. When he formed Earth, Wind & Fire in 1969, he was their only drummer; during solos, he would play the Kalimba, and the crowd loved it. White used the Kalimba on some of their recordings, and it became an element (get it?) of their signature sound, featured on their 1973 song "Evil."

    "Kalimba Story," released on the band's fifth album, Open Our Eyes, in 1974, is a showcase for the instrument with a lyric by White about how he started playing the Kalimba and brought that sound around the world. For White, a spiritual component comes with it:

    The vibration will move your mind
    It's new to you, sounds true to you
    Sacred music before it's time
  • The Kalimba is based on an instrument called the mbira, which originated in Zimbabwe. An Englishman named Hugh Tracey came across the mbira in his travels to that country and developed it into the Kalimba, which he marketed outside of Africa. Maurice White was the most famous musician to use the instrument, and by far its most effective ambassador. The Kalimba remained a niche instrument though, which worked to White's favor because he was able to buy the trademark from Tracey; in 1975 White launched Kalimba Productions, and later, Kalimba Records.
  • For Maurice White, the Kalimba was an expression of his African roots, which EW&F expressed through their percussion sounds and rhythms. White made a few trips to Egypt to learn more about their philosophy and culture, and brought the band with him on one of these trips.
  • Maurice White wrote "Kalimba Story" with his brother, the group's bass player Verdine White.
  • Earth, Wind & Fire singer Philip Bailey, also a talented percussionist, learned how to play the Kalimba and did so on stage after Maurice White stopped touring with the band in the late '90s. This allowed them to keep "Kalimba Story" in their repertoire.

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