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Kalimba, Lukembe and Ennanga: the musical instruments of Africa


This month, we take a look at musical instruments of Africa. These are well represented on Europeana Music, thanks to the wide and varied records from Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO).

This blog gives just a glimpse into some of the different types of instruments that can be found in Africa.


This type of instrument consists of a board upon which strong but flexible keys (or lamellae) are mounted. These keys are plucked causing a twanging sound, rather like twanging a ruler held over the edge of a table.

There are so many varieties of lamellaphone: the lamellae can be made of cane, or various types of metal that have been hammered out. The lamellae can be tuned in different ways, or mounted to the board in different ways. The resonator can be a wooden box, or a hollowed-out gourd, or even a tortoise shell.

The mbira dza vadzimu, from Zimbabwe shown here, is one of the most well-known lamellaphone. Other types are called the kalimba, ilimba, lulimba and lukembe.

Mbira: CC BY-NC-SA Musik & Teatermuseet

Arched harps

These beautiful instruments are called arched harps because of the shape of the string bearer – unlike the orchestral there isn’t a supporting pillar.

The shape of the instrument can vary greatly, sometimes a simple boat shape, sometimes ornately carved and decorated, in the shape of an animal or a person. One type of arched harp is the ennanga from Uganda which you can see here. You can also hear the ennanga being played here on Europeana Collections.

Ennanga. CC BY-NC-SA: Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz - Ethnologisches Museum

Please take a moment to explore some of the other types of instruments on European Music – the koras, which have two sets of strings passing over a raised bridge, the many types of drums throughout the region, the lyres and, finally, the marimbas, balafons and xylophones.

Music Africa