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The Vocal Kalimba - A Circle Song Experience with Kevin Nathaniel

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A Community Music Healing Experience inspired by the circular music and rhythms of the kalimba

The Kalimba or Mbira is an instrument that lies at the crossroads of melody and rhythm, of color and design, flute and drum, much like a xylophone. Its design is almost always based on or reflective of a circle. Its playing is almost always a weave of interdependent, interlocking musical phrasings. It is a very ancient instrument of Africa, however, long before its development, as with most African instruments, there was vocal music that predated and influenced the way it would be arranged, tuned, and approached. In fact, if you asked elders in the southern African mbira traditions about the tuning of their mbira style, regardless of style, they will tell you that the low notes are the men’s and older people’s voices, the mid range notes are the women’s voices, and the high notes are the children’s voices. It is clear that the instrument is closely connected with the tradition of people gathering to sing together. It also clear that pathways are considered so that each one can contribute in a meaningful way. Design comes in the form of rhythm, synchronicity, and flowing open patterns of harmony. This workshop will focus both on pathways and resultant, egalitarian design. The experience of Ubuntu.

Oral traditions of southern Africa say that many thousands of years ago people did gather and sing polyphonic songs, as is still true today, sometimes accompanied by rattles or other percussion. This is a very ancient musical practice common to much of Africa, predating instruments. This kind of polyphonic “circle singing” is what led to the development of mbira and mbira music.

In this workshop, we will explore circle singing allowing for the influence of the rhythms and interlocking melodies of the kalimba. Allowing for synchronicity and flow to create paths for anyone, regardless of skill, to make meaningful contributions. Circle singing is for everyone. It may well be the most ancient of communal human musical activity. It is well-suited for the musically adept, the novice, and all between. Circle singing, at its highest calling, is a way of sharing music that invites and holds space for everyone to contribute in the spirit of community. It can reflect, project, and echoe a clear picture of a sustainable, thoughtful society. Circle singing often involves a circle formation in which several different but related parts or phrases are sung by participants in the circle to form a resultant whole. At times someone will suggest parts and “lead”, and while the singing incorporates improvisation and playfulness, it also demands precision analogous in ways to what happens in a drum circle or a symphony orchestra. Part of the demanding aspect of circle singing involves, as a path toward ever-developing more interesting songs, sometimes sounding just like instruments, or just like a well tuned choir, or any palate of sounds possible for the voice. It is a joyous activity, excluding no one, allowing anyone to engage where their own musicality can be utilized, challenged, or improved upon.

Circle singing was popularized and given new meaning and potential in recent decades by Bobby McFerrin, however, as mentioned, it has very ancient roots in southern African vocal music styles which birthed the kalimba or mbira. This workshop focuses on the African roots and influences which allow for, as with the kalimba, community interaction and creative input.

In this workshop we will explore the process of polyrhythm, rhythmic interlocking, and tonal awareness while also remaining free to explore, create, and experiment.
In essence, the kalimba and African rhythm serve as beautiful springboards from which to leap into new ideas.

We explore:

  • the higher purpose of circle singing

  • the possibilities

  • the healing capacity, uses, potential: medicinal, social, communal, individual, and more

  • the African concepts of ubuntu and sankofa, which apply directly to the workshop.

Suggested donation: $20

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KEVIN NATHANIEL is a visionary musician who, with voice and ancient Afrikan instruments, channels sound as a universal healing force. Together, breathing rhythms to the beat of our synchronized hearts, Kevin Nathaniel resonates songs of the "big picture" of love in ways that propel the soul to dance! A long-time devotee of mbira, kalimba, circle song, drum, dance, meditation, and yoga; a world-traveled music healer sharing the musical medicine of the ancient, the now, and the beyond, Kevin Nathaniel brings a fresh, deep experience of the beauty of sound.