This week’s strikingly unusual instrument combines the higher range of the four-octave xylophone and lower notes of marimba, using similar wooden bars set out like a piano keyboard that resonate when hit. Also with metal tubes underneath the rosewood bars, it’s a different instrument to both, but the sound of the lower range is more xylophone than marimba, and different again to the glockenspiel, another idiophone which has metal, not wooden bars. The xylorimba, also known as the xylo-marimba or marimba-xylophone is popular African instrument, but was also a bit hit in the vaudeville eras of the 1920s and 1930s. Here’s a demonstration of its five or more octave range:
As well as a traditional and jazz instrument, has also been popular with 20th-century classical composers looking to push the musical envelope. Here’s a more challenging snippet of Olivier Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux étoiles for piano solo, horn, xylorimba, glockenspiel and orchestra (1971–74):
Igor Stravinsky, Alban Berg, Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, who heavily influenced members of Can and other so-called krautrock musicians, were among other composers who all wrote for the xylorimba. Due to its range, the instrument has also been used to interpret many other pieces of all genres. Here’s a Transformation of Pachelbel's Canon" by Nanae Mimura, performed by Kevin Hanrahan.
But above all the xylorimba is a key sound of Africa. Here’s one of the leading players, South Africa’s Zwai Mbula showing how it can be a complex instrument of both melody and rhythm when also used in a traditional or jazz context.
Where else have you heard the xylorimba, or its relatives, the marimba or xylophone in songs or instrumentals, on albums, or other contexts? Feel free to share your examples in comments below. Do these make you think of something else? Then also feel free to comment below, on the contact page, or on social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Please subscribe, follow and share.
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