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African Marimbas

The AMI marimba is a hybrid instrument based on traditional African wooden xylophones from Mozambique (Chopi timbilas) and Malawi (ulimba from Nsanje). Br. Kurt Huwiler and Andrew Tracey designed them in Zimbabwe in the 1960's. ( For a full history in Dr. Andrew Traceys own words go to our Marimbas History page.) The instruments soon became very popular, initially in Zimbabwe, and more recently, South Africa, North America, Europe and Australia. Power Marimbas took over production from Brother Kurt in 1994 and AMI added them to their portfolio in 1999. Many design improvements have been made over the years and they are now considered to be the finest African marimbas in Southern Africa and possibly the world.

Marimbas are usually played in an ensemble of four instruments; piccolo, soprano, tenor and baritone-where each instrument can take on a distinct role. The soprano is a lead instrument and usually plays the melody, but can also be used to improvise. The tenor is the rhythm instrument, playing either enhancing or contrasting patterns within the overall timepiece. The baritone or double bass supply the bass line or cross rhythms in the lower range. The piccolo is primarily used to improvise, but can be used to help the lead. Obviously, the more instruments added to the ensemble, the more voices can be added. Many ensembles incorporate two soprano lead instruments.

A.M.I. marimbas are handcrafted with Kiaat wood keys and traditional buzzers. They can be disassembled into three parts for transportation; the keyboard frame, the resonating boxes and the legs. Marimbas are very versatile and can adapt to different musical styles, from traditional vocal and mbira tunes to western and Afro-fusion, reggae and even western classical music. Each marimba is supplied with its own specific pair of beaters.


We can supply two types of African marimbas; Standard and Chromatic. In the standard range there are two tunings, the western well tempered tuning in C (with added F#'s) and a Xhosa tuning with just intonation in Eb (with added A's).

The added notes in each of the tunings allows for the instruments to be played in two different scales. The Xhosa or just intonation tuning is based on the harmonic series derived from the Xhosa Uhadi Bow. This is a more natural tuning that is better suited to traditional groups or for vocal accompaniment. The Eb tuning could also conceivably be used with some orchestral wind instruments.

If a set of marimbas is to be played with Orff or other school instruments then the Standard Marimbas in C or the Chromatic Marimbas would be preferable.

For a Graphic view of the Pitch Ranges of all our instruments, Click Here.


Piccolo Marimba
(14 notes G0 to E2)
Soprano Marimba
(18 notes G-1 to A1)
Tenor Marimba
(14 notes G-2 to E0)
Baritone Marimba
(9 notes C-2 to D-1)


These instruments each have a double keyboard.

Chromatic Piccolo Marimba
(22 notes C1 to A2)
Chromatic Soprano Marimba
(27 notes C0 to D2)
Chromatic Tenor Marimba
(22 notes C-1 to A0)
Chromatic Baritone Marimba
(15 notes C-2 to D-1)

We have recently re-engineered our entire Marimba Range, and they are now available with square tubular Steel frames, which have folding legs for easier transportation. Click Here for more details.

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