Category Archives: Combs



Name: Kisanji.
Type: Idiophones > Lamellophones > Combs >
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 122.1
Country: DR, Congo.
Region: Africa.

Description: The kisanji is a plucked lamellophone that is played by the Ngala speaking people in DR. Congo and Eastern Congo Republic. Alternate names or this instrument include; Ikembe, Chisanji, Eleke or Sanza.

Playing Techniques: It is played by holding the instrument in both hands and plucking the keys with the thumbs. The pitch of each metal key is determined by the length and width of the key.

Tuning: The most common tuning is the pentatonic scale without semitones, for example do re mi sol la or C D E G A, which varies by region. The music played on the sanza is polyrhythmic with overlapping rhythms. The instrument is often used to accompany the voice, to great effect.

Construction: Most often the placement of the keys is symmetrical, with the lowest keys in the middle and the higher keys on each end of the instrument.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites:


Name: ikembe.
Type: Idiophones > Lamellophones > Combs >
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 122.1
Country: Rwanda, Burundi & Congo.
Region: Africa.

Description: The iKembe is a plucked musical instrument from the lamellophone group. It is a common musical instrument played amongst the people of Rwanda, Burundi and Congo.

Naming: The names for this instrument are plentiful. Variations among the names include – likimbe, or likembe [as it the ikembe is called among the Amba people of Uganda and the Tabura of the Congo Basin. The name lulimba is found among the [Yao people of Malawi, Tanzania, Tanzania and Mozambique].

The name itshilimba is used by the Bemba people of Zambia, or karimba in Zimbabwe or kalimba and ikembe Bahutu of Rwanda and Burundi. Numerous names are known for this instrument although the predominance of names with this root is undeniable. The spelling is not as important as the sound that is made in vocalizing the names.

Nomenclature: In Swahili the word imba means song. Kuimba means to sing, as in the phrase “nitakwenda kuimba” [I go to sing]. Swahili, as in many languages, uses a type of binomial nomenclature to create new words to describe unfamiliar or new objects, occurrences or people, based on existing words or concepts.

By combining part of the word for mother = ma with the word for song = imba using r as a connector we come up with the word marimba = mother of song. We can then extrapolate from the research of A.M. Jones, quoted by Osborne that ka = small combined with the word imba = song should mean little mother of song.

Citations: Bibliography: Hugh Tracey, A case for the name Mbira’ in the African Music Society Journal, No. 3 1964 ; Websites: