Mark Holdaway,
Two Thumbs Up:
Adventures on the African Thumb Piano

(self-produced, 2000)

It is a crying shame that instrumentals don't normally get popular airplay, unless loaded down with electric manipulation or attached to a few specific names and the hideous "adult contemporary" label.

That single sad fact means Mark Holdaway's Two Thumbs Up: Adventures on the African Thumb Piano probably won't get heard by any but a few very proactive world music enthusiasts. That's a loss for the potential audience that won't get to hear some highly unusual and potent music, and it's a loss for composer and performer Holdaway, who would doubtless like more fans. But most of all it's a loss for the kalimba, the African thumb piano, because this CD should by all rights spark a renaissance in its popularity.

Every note of the kalimba resonates with a rare focus that highlights the integrity of the individual tune and calls hidden depths out of the most familiar pieces. The kalimba turns "Blowin' in the Wind" into a message from alien shores, whistled across unknown distance. It captures the unstoppable energy of a "Growing Flower" and the choir of voices to be heard when you "Listen to the Night." Metallic and resonant, the kalimba can create the illusion of music without guidance, adding wildness to "Jungle Wrap" and "Shalom." It's sweet, powerful magic, and it can't be made with anything but the kalimba.

There's something about the kalimba, at least in Holdaway's hands, that creates the feel of a sacred moment without disturbing the everyday. It's a flexible meditation perfect for a family dinner or a nightmare commute. Two Thumbs Up is soothing on a bad day, uplifting on a good day, and just plain beautiful to hear.

by Sarah Meador
5 May 2007

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