February 12th - Likembi Song Book

Likembi Song Book - Nadi Qamar, 1979

This album is one of several in the Folkways archive by Nadi Quamar which demonstrate and teach the use of the likembi (known as a mbira or thumb piano) and the Mama-Likembi, an instrument of Quamar's own design consisting of several likembi joined on a series of platforms. Quamar is - according to the autobiography on his Facebook page - the likembi-focused stage name of Spaulding Givens (or, according to the Folkways notes, the new name Givens adopted when he converted to Islam), who played jazz piano alongside Charles Mingus, Art Tatum and Nina Simone. After becoming interested in African music Quamar began to build his own likembi - the liner notes to his Mama-Likembi Instruction Record contain detailed instructions on how the tines of the likembis should be bent and tuned - and developed a musical theory called the Nuru Taa African Idiom, which itself is related in another Folkways album.

The music itself is intricate and actually reminds me a lot of the music and theory stuff from the Black Banjo Songsters album, with interlocking rhythmic patterns and drone notes. The pieces range from obviously jazz-derived tunes like Finger Poppin Piece #1 to long-form epics like California Sutra #3, all of which reward close listening because, well...the likembi isn't very loud. So you're going to be straining it a bit, but the pieces are a little bit hypnotic as well.

Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways