Photo courtesy of Qiyamah Girard

AUC Collaboration: Musical instrument workshop and performance with Kevin Spears at the Spelman Innovation Lab

On March 22 and 23, the Spelman Innovation Lab hosted Atlanta artist Kevin Spears “Kalimba Man” for a lecture-recital and a series of four workshops. Students and faculty gathered in the Rockefeller Fine Arts Building to learn about the musical instrument and make one of their own. During the workshops in the Innovation Lab more than 50 musical instruments were made using the laser cutter and individual assembly. Bringing together institutions, on February 6, Mr. Spears gave the inaugural lecture of Morehouse’s Making African Instruments Lecture Series (MAILS), which partnered with Spelman’s makerspace on the kalimba project. Since then, students have been busy making kalimbas (also known as mbiras or thumb pianos) at the Innovation Lab.

Kevin Spears “Kalimba Man” and workshop attendee // Photo courtesy of Qiyamah Girard

The lab aims to show how developments in technology and fabrication methods shed new light on disciplines across campus. Morehouse faculty member Aaron Carter-Enyi and students in his Advanced Music Theory course worked with Spelman Music Professor Sakinah Davis’s students, as well as Dr. Jerry Volcy and Professor Robert Hamilton of the Spelman Innovation Lab, to make improved Kalimba prototypes based on what they learned from Mr. Spears during his February visit. Project participants used insights from the workshops to practice the design process of rapid prototyping and iteration . By using makercase.com (a free online prototyping software), Corel Draw, and the Universal Laser Systems (ULS) laser-cutter in the Spelman Innovation Lab, a performance-quality prototype was developed.

Photo courtesy of Qiyamah Girard

During the two-day workshop, students chose to produce an instrument with either an acrylic or birch plywood resonator (soundbox). Students further customized their instruments by engraving either Spelman’s Sisters Chapel Logo or a personalized design on their kalimbas. Workshop participants learned to assemble, tune, and play the instrument with the guidance of Kevin Spears, Professor Robert Hamilton, and Professor Aaron Carter-Enyi. Faculty and staff also participated — Professor Aku Kadogo (Chair of Theatre Performance Studies) made two kalimbas — one on Wednesday and Thursday. Kalimba-making has been described as “contagious” because those who have made an instrument often insist on making another.

Professor and Chair Aku Kadogo // Photo courtesy of Qiyamah Girard
Photo courtesy of Qiyamah Girard