Sunday, 11 June 2017

100% Funded + Flipflops

Woo! We did it. Our Indiegogo campaign broke the amount we asked for.

Huge thank you to everyone who donated, and we'll be putting together a permanent supporters' page shortly.

Quite a bit to update you on at the moment.


Good news and not-as-good news on the string frame.

We really, really wanted to video the first string frame being poured at the foundry.

Unfortunately, Alex had to visit Kampala. Whilst he was away, his team decided to get on with things without giving us a call to come and film it.

Of course, we're really happy the job is done, but as it was such a historic moment, we're also a little sad we couldn't capture it for you.

Oh well.

Communication is one thing we will have to contend with throughout this process. When you're working in several languages across different workshops, there will always be hiccups.

Désiré is going over tomorrow to take a look at the frame and see whether it's fit for purpose.

Alex has offered to melt it back down, but if it's a working frame to the right specifications, we'd rather get on with building a piano.


This is proving much harder than we could have imagined.

There is nowhere (that we know of) in Africa that makes piano strings.

This means ordering online from abroad. As mentioned before, we should have taken a rubbing of the strings before taking them off our template piano, Lirika. A rubbing helps to provide the measurements the string manufacturer needs. We've tried contacting the original Lirika manufacturer in Russia to get the spec, but the e-mail bounces.

There's one string manufacturer we're not too keen to work with after they told us we were unlikely to succeed. As you can imagine, that didn't leave us with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Another said they'd get back to us but haven't.

Another responded saying it was an interesting project, but didn't answer any of the questions we asked.

Finally, we found a piano shop in Wales who have a similar model of Lirika and who said they'd be willing to check the string spec against ours and take a rubbing if it's the same. That would make online ordering so much easier.

It feels as though string manufacturers are just used to dealing with big companies who order in bulk and know exactly what they're doing. We haven't got a clue, and there's not much interim support for that.


In the meantime, we've gone a little off the rails.

It's the action, you see.

It's really complicated.

Like the strings, half the stuff involved just isn't made in Africa. One of the big bits is the felt for the hammers. It's not that we won't order abroad, it's just that we're curious to see whether there are any other options.

After thinking about it for a few weeks, Marion came up with the idea of sending three hammers to Kenya, to a little place called Ocean Sole. They're cleaning the world's beaches one flipflop at a time, and they make beautiful sculptures out of the materials they recycle.

Marion visited their shop at Marula Studios a few years back.

It's a slightly mad idea, but I was sitting there with a hammer in my hand, thinking - what else could you use instead of felt? Traditionally, piano hammers were made from leather, but apparently this creates a softer sound. We're not ruling out leather, but I remembered holding an animal sculpture that Ocean Sole made and it occurred to me that it had a similar texture and density to hammer felt. Joe Mwakiremba, the manager, agreed to have a look. It'll take about two weeks for our hammers to arrive in Nairobi, but once they do we'll know whether it's possible. We're looking to order five mid-section hammer heads to test. They'd need to be as durable as felt, and create a decent sound. It's a really long shot, but I don't think anyone's ever tried building a piano action from flipflops before. Seemed like a fun experiment. - Marion

The really big challenge ahead of us is to build a reliable supply chain for the parts we need. The more we can do locally, the lower our import and postage costs, and the more authentically African our pianos will be.

1 comment:

  1. I just love this project, it takes innovation and a 'can-do' attitude to a whole new level! Fingers firmly crossed.