My wife was checking recently and came across a listing for a thumb piano. She decided it should be ours. The guy selling the instrument didn’t know what it was and said he bought it in a box of other stuff at an estate sale. He wanted 20 bucks for it.
So now I am plunking away on it. It’s not quite the piano I’d imagined, but I’ve been having some fun with it.
We were interested because we saw the film Throw Down Your Heart in which Béla Fleck tours Africa and plays his banjo with a variety of local musicians. The banjo, in an earlier form, made its way to America on slave ships. Fleck wanted to reintroduce and reintegrate the banjo with other African instruments and styles of playing.
In several songs from the film he plays with the thumb piano as in this scene:
In the scene, Béla Fleck plays along with Ruth Akello’s thumb piano. She sings the repeated phrase, “Jesus is the only answer that I know.” It’s a catchy, irresistible song.