The marimba is a large percussion instrument with wooden bars and resonators. Struck with mallets, it produces melodic tones. The most common form of marimba stretches 4 to 5 octaves and require the player to stand while striking the bars. While the marimba originated in Africa, it has become a popular instrument across the world in genres including classical, jazz, and world music.
History of the Marimba
According to legend, the history of the marimba began a long time ago in Africa with a basic percussion instrument involving wooden bars stretched across a hole in the ground to produce a resonating sound. These stories are only oral history but the marimba may have likely descended from another African percussion instrument called a xylophone, that has a much harsher tone when struck. Ancient stories in Africa suggest the marimba may have got its name from the Zulu tribe who had a god named Marimba that played a xylophone. The marimba came to central America and South America via enslaved africans in the 16th century who brought marimbas with gourd resonators to Guatemala, Costa Rica and Mexico among other countries in the region. The soft sound of the marimba influenced latin american sounds and soon became popular. Mexican marimba player Manuel Bolán Cruz is often credited as the musician who elongated the legs of the marimba and got the performer to stand while playing. Construction and length of the marimba has changed throughout history across different parts of the world and new materials like PVC were introduced during the 20th century.
Where to Buy
$2,000 - $10,000
Hear the Marimba
How to Play
A percussion instrument similar to a xylophone but with a deeper, warmer tone, played with mallets.
In Popular Music
The marimba can be heard on many songs that seek to have an African influence on the music, for example, ‘Africa’ (1982) by American rock band Toto and ‘Zanzibar’ by singer-songwriter Billy Joel’s 1978 album ‘52nd Street. It has also been used on songs by artists like Iggy Pop and Weezer.
Keiko Abe, Evelyn Glennie, Ney Rosauro
Video Credit: Christoph Sietzen - Percussion
Understanding the Marimba