El Marimból – an authentic discovery

Imagine a half- island with coconut trees, and the most authentic experience in the Caribbean is fulfilled with you finding at the entrance of the hotel,where you stay, one of the most typical instruments used in merengue and other music styles in the Caribbean. Well, this was my happy gaze in the beginning, and later I found myself playing an imaginative rhythm on it.


Marimból is a percussion instrument which employs certain tone pitches. It is still not clear after which system the tones are employed, since in different countries the instrument has a varying number of plucks. However, the tone pitches exist. At least to play in the sequences of tonica, dominant and subdominant. Before I emerge into analytical details, here is an example of how it sounds with other instruments, such as cuadro – the four string guitar, a workshop in Veracruz, Mexico.

Let’s see where marimból comes from. First of all, before coming to the Americas, it originated from the African continent. The instrument from which the construction of marimból was inspired, is called mbira or sanza. Once imitated on the base of its African ancestors, marimból first appeared in the 16th century in Brazil and went on a journey in the 19th century. Then it was already dispersed throughout the Gulf of Mexico in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Dominican Republic. Notably, it was very common in ports and mercantile cities.

In different countries marimból was used for different music styles. Canguí in Cuba and also for the son jarocho. This is an example from Cuba.

In Jamaica it is employed in raggae and in Colombia it appears during African traditional festivities which were lead by palenques, a sort of African communities. Contrary to Mexico, where marimból is tuned according to the diatonic scale, in Dominican Republic it stayed in its simple form with 3-5 metal plaques. Among guira, tambor, guitar, and when Germans started coming to the island in the 1880s, also accordeon, marimból was an instrument being used for merengue típico.

For a more explicit personal experience of a percussionist in Spanish, you might be interested in the following link. I will write about merengue típico at a later point, since it is a solid topic to explore.