Resource 6: Ilimba

Teacher resource for planning or adapting to use with pupils

One of the simplest forms of resonated xylophones is the percussion bars calledilimba (singular)or malimba (plural) by the Bemba people of Zambia. They consist of one tuned bar suspended, by a frame, over a hole in a gourd. The gourd acts as a resonator amplifying the sound of the bar. This type of instrument is a good introduction to the relationship between a vibrating bar and a resonator. The resonator needs to be tuned to the bar to make it amplify the sound produced from the bar.

The larger gourds are placed under lower pitched bars and smaller gourds under the higher pitches. This may not always be the case as the hole's size in the gourd also has an effect on the tuning. The larger the hole, the higher the tuning, within limitations. Some ilimba have a hole in the side, which can be covered with a membrane. This provides a buzzing effect when the instrument is played. Many African xylophones have this feature. The membrane is most commonly made from spider's web because it is very fine, closely woven, and strong.

In Africa, many of the xylophones look like collections of ilimba joined. They have been built this way dating back into antiquity. No one is sure as to how long xylophones have been made, but the first metalophones recorded were around 900 ad and these were based on the then quite sophisticated xylophones.

Perhaps the most prevalent use of xylophones is in the African and Southeast Asian cultures. The use of marimbas in Central America can be traced to the slave trade, having originated in Africa.

Ilimba as individual notes are good for accompaniment to songs.

How to play ilimba/malimba/silimba

  1. Place ilimba on the level surface (the floor or desk top).
  2. Depending on your dexterity use one hand to grasp the handle of a mallet.
  3. Hit the bar of the ilimba with a relaxed wrist action.
  4. When many amalimba are put together they become malimba and silimba, depending on the cultural context.
  5. Malimba and silimba are played using two hands.

Resource 5: Musical pipes

Section 5: The art of storytelling