ikembe

Name: Ikembe.
Type: Idiophones > Lamellophones > Combs >
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 122.1
Country: Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe & 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, Uganda, Burundi and Congo.

Etymology: 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.

Alternate Names: The name itshilimba is used by the Bemba people of Zambia; the 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:

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