"Lamella" means plate, or tongue. "Lamellophone" is an ethnomusicological term describing any instrument that makes its sound by plucking, striking, or otherwise exciting vibrations of lamellae.

Kalimba was originally one of the names of the traditional African lamellophones. People in northern Zimbabwe referred to their instruments as kalimbas, while people in the rest of Zimbabwe referred to them as karimbas. Kalimba is a generic name for any thumb piano, used today to describe any non-traditional lamellophone.

The term Karimba comprises a family of closely related instruments:

  • 17-note mbira dzavadzimu
  • 15-note mbira nyunga nyunga
  • 8- or 9-note 'original' karimba
Each of these instruments is a specific traditional instrument. The 8- and 9-note karimbas were perhaps the original tuning of the instruments from over 1000 years ago, and the notes from these instruments form the core of all modern traditional lamellophones.

 is a traditional African lamellophone used by the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The traditional use of the mbira dzavadzimu is to facilitate a trance in a person acting as a spiritual medium, so that one particular ancestral spirit can possess the medium. It is thought to be about 800-900 years old.

There are many other names - sanza, likembe, ilimba, inbimba, mbila, karimbao, marimba, okeme, etc.

Take a look at our selection of thumb pianos here