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A Musician's Portrait: Brandon Blake

A Musician's Portrait: Brandon Blake



Brandon Blake, preschool teacher, head of the brain injury support group, writing artist, musician, volunteer for dogs in need and animal rights activist, was interviewed by the Hokema company in Germany about  his daily use of the Kalimba Sansula. Interviewed by: Annalena Horl


Describe a "normal day" in your life:

Every day starts with “cat feeding”. If it wasn't, the animals wouldn't let me do anything until they got their feed. Then I prepare breakfast for my wife and me. We always use fresh ingredients from the market. On class days I pack my documents and, of course, the sansula for the preschool. I spend eight hours at school and focus on the social and emotional development of these impressive young souls. After such a working day, I am truly exhausted. I go home and rest to play sansula or bass afterwards. Then my wife Sabrina and I have dinner together, mostly with a cat on my lap. On days without lessons, I structure my daily routine somewhat more freely. Then I make music, practice calligraphy, take care of neglected greyhounds, talk to my parents or continue to work on my health status. In the evening we often have friends visiting, or we can be found at sporting events - or I play concerts. No matter what happened during the day, I try to play on the Sansula every night to clear my head. This relieves me of the pressure of everyday life and the Sansula is an excellent tool.

What's the best thing about your job?

In preschool, I primarily focus on supporting the children in their behavioral development. In doing so, we positively work out those behaviors that we need in our world today: friendliness, compassion, empathy, respect, love, humor or the ability to solve conflicts with words without becoming hurtful. I am the first teacher for these children and it is up to me and my team to make learning fun. I hope that every child has a good start in this lifelong journey of learning. I want to contribute to change and make sure that our next generation is no longer xenophobic, racist, aggressive or narrow-minded. I want the children to see each other as friends, appreciate their personalities and differences and respect for each other. Even if we are different, we are similar when we treat each other with love. So I teach kindness and the ability to learn to appreciate each other.

When did you get to know the Sansula?

I wanted a separation from my smartphone and the digital world within it. I wanted to be screen-free, take something in my hand, use my thumbs and make music - and not scroll through a digital world every minute. I needed a line of demarcation to be "attentive to thoughtlessness" and so the Kalimba was the perfect instrument for me. On April 20, 2015, my wife Sabrina and I stumbled into a music store called "Dusty Strings" in Seattle. I tried a few kalimbas, but Sabrina wasn't really thrilled with any of them. Then I saw one that was built into a small framed drum. What was that? When I took the HOKEMA Sansula and started to play, Sabrina turned and said: “You have to take it. It sounds fabulous. That is what we are looking for!" This was the beginning of a wonderful journey that Sansula took me with - and the journey has only just begun!"

How do you use the Sansula and what opportunities does it bring?

I use the Sansula in a few “key places” in my life. I use it as a pedagogical tool in preschool - to give the students a calm mood for naptime. And they fall asleep every time. At music time, the children can play the Sansulas and kalimbas themselves. The successful design of their melodious tone sequences motivates them to make music and they feel more secure in playing. I also use the Sansula when I play for the residents in a retirement home. For me, it represents a loving bridge between the generations and we share very nice musical moments. But I also use the Sansula as a healing measurement. When I play in the "Brain Injury Community". I have already shown many people that the instrument can have a kind of healing effect through careful playing. In addition, it is relatively easy to learn to play the Sansula - this means that people who have neurological and motor impairments can also have success with the instrument. Incidentally, I also use it for myself as a “cure”. It simply helps me to recover, has a meditative effect and is a tool for designing my "mindful, careless moments". But apart from that, you can just make great music with it. I perform regularly in Seattle's music scene and use the Sansula both solo and in projects with other musicians from all over the world. I developed new percussion and touch methods and use small magnets to enable even more effects. If you put the small magnets on the metal tongues, you can change notes and you can change the instrument depending on the song without a lot of tools. 

        Can you see the sansula as a serious tool?

Absolutely. I don't need to think about that for a long time, because it is self-explanatory for everyone who hears the Sansula. I took them to Tennessee and introduced them to Victor Wooten's world-famous Bass Nature Camp Wooten Woots. I showed my various playing techniques including the idea with the magnets. People were thrilled - both by the sound and the way they played. Victor Wooten and his brothers (all world-famous music virtuosos and also absolutely great people) said that they had never seen a person play the way I did before. The way I use the Sansula, they called it 'groundbreaking'. Victor later came to Seattle for a concert series and invited me to join him and the drummer J.D. Blair to stand on the stage. I was humbled and overwhelmed to be able to stand on one of Seattle's hippest jazz stages with my childhood idol. I performed with them for three evenings and enjoyed playing. It was perfect - even though I had only started playing Sansula nine months earlier. People actually wanted autographs and photos of me after the show, which was incredible. But it would never have happened to me if the HOKEMA Sansula were not simply a world-class instrument. You just can't say it any other way!


Which of the HOKEMA instruments would you call your favorite?

The Sansula Renaissance because of its durable drum and robust sound. This allows me to use the percussive techniques that I incorporate during the playing. In addition, it's also strong enough to be played by very young children without having to worry about damage. It's the only one of my instruments that my 100 year old grandmother can play.

Biographical information about your career

Brandon Blake has seen himself as a musician since he started to drum on his thigh at the age of five. At the age of thirteen he started playing bass guitar. A short time later he met his future wife Sabrina at Florida State University, with whom he played in a Balinese Gamelan orchestra. Brandon only met the Sansula after an all-changing accident happened ... It was July 25, 2013, when his life was about to change fundamentally - and was almost taken away from teaching at a Seattle pre-school as he was on his regular bicycle route home. A car raced towards him and hit him head-on. Life-threatening head injuries were the terrible result and Brandon was immediately put into an artificial coma. When he woke up the next day and was told what had happened, he was on an long, arduous path to recovery. Broken ribs, an almost completely smashed face and, to make matters worse, a violent traumatic brain injury that required extreme treatment. Brandon underwent a full facial reconstruction and still has 7 titanium plates under his skin. After completing the operations, he was allowed to return home and deal with how to continue living with a brain injury. From then on specialists, neurologists, and reconstructive surgeons accompanied his everyday life. Over 150 doctor's appointments and many months later, Brandon had had a hard cure, consisting of neuro-treatments, reconstructive measures, and discussions related to his traumatic brain injury. At that point, he was unable to continue his work as a preschool teacher - recovery and healing had become his full-time job. He quickly became an active member of the local brain injury community in Seattle and, through his positive outlook on life, helped those who suffered a similar ordeal. After two years, Brandon returned to the classroom. He hadn't lost his passion for helping others. In addition to teaching, he began to work in the "Brain Injury Community", where he now leads a group of young patients with brain injuries. "Those who were the first to be confronted with me after my accident kept telling me that it was unclear how I could survive with such head injuries. So if I'm no longer here and yet I am, I call this the “bonus time life”. Every day since, this stroke of fate has given me a new purpose and reward. The time with my students, with my wife, with friends, my cats ... and my Sansula! All this is bonus time and I don’t take it for granted. I am so happy to be here and to share my story with you.”

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Tuning Tool

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Koshi Chime Aqua (D-minor)
Dianna L Norwood
Aqua Koshi Chime (432Hz)

This is a very beautiful chime that I can play with my Aqua Zenko Element (432Hz), Aqua Tinka Tong (432Hz), & my Aqua Hokema B5 Kalimba (432Hz) with a little help from my friends. Of course, I can mix & match the chimes with other elemental instruments & be amazed by the way that the sounds blend perfectly.

Terra Koshi Chime (432Hz)

This is my favorite chime that I play before bed for a more restful sleep. I have noticed a little hum with beautiful overtones & undertones when moved around in a circular motion that I particularly enjoy. I can play this with my beloved Terra Tinka Tong or my beautiful Hokema B5 Terra Kalimba.

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This is a lovely chime that I play with either my Hokema Terra B5 Kalimba or my Ignis Tinka Tong. The great thing about these chimes is that they sound great mixing & matching them with other instruments from WPWT.
I play these chimes for self care before bed for a more restful sleep.

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This Kalimba is pleasing to the eye because of the cut & quality of the cherry wood. The size is perfect for small hands such as mine. I particularly love the Terra Tuning & fell instantly in love with this Kalimba that reminds me of a music box when played.
I also received the Aqua B5 Hokema Kalimba which is equally as beautiful as the Terra.
The Aqua Kalimba completes my Aqua Elemental Soundscape bundle. I cannot say how much I have loved jamming with my set.
This B5 Kalimba may be small, but its sound output is excellent & the tone is perfect. The B5 Kalimba can also be paired with the matching Koshi Chime & easily played. I think that I prefer the size of the B5 Kalimba & would highly recommend it for sound & ease of play.
Thanks & best wishes to the WPWT team.

Aqua, Aria, Ignis, & Terra Koshi Chimes

All that I can say is that I love my Koshi Chimes. Each Elemental Chime is unique & complete in its own light tinkling playful sound & becomes even more beautiful in the complexity of two chimes paired together. I particularly enjoy the calming quality of Aqua & Aria. I also like the joyfulness & energy of Ignis & Terra as they are played together. I bought the Koshi Chimes because they were highly recommended for their durability & because they never go out of tune. I also like the earthiness of the color of bamboo. One day I might like to pair Koshi Chimes with a pop of color from matching Zaphir Chimes.
Now let me throw in the beauty of the B5 Hokema Kalimbas - Terra & Aqua as they are paired with their companion Koshi Chimes. I have small hands & can easily hold & play the B5 Kalimba as I am holding the chime of the same tone in the other hand. This is indeed as lovely as the Elemental Soundscape video.
I like to play the Koshi Chimes before I go to bed as it helps to empty my mind, offer relaxation & sounder sleep.
My thanks again to the WPWT team for providing yet another pleasant experience as I keep adding to my ever growing collection of musical instruments.

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Aaliyah Bolden

The packages arrived in a timely manner and packaged with care. The instrument had the richest tone and a divine frequency, I look forward to using this for sound journeys.

Hokema B9 Kalimba Aria

I was pleased with customer service & by the work ethic that this company has. This is my first kalimba that I have ever owned. It is easy to make pretty little melodies & pairs well with the chime of the same key, but admittedly the kalimba sounds louder & sweeter when held & played so it works better when these instruments are played by 2 people. Overall I was pleased with my purchase.

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Aria Air A Minor Koshi Chime

Customer service was yet again excellent. My question was answered promptly by email. Items were mailed promptly & in excellent condition upon arrival. I purchased my Aria Chime & was thrilled by its beauty & by how easy it was to learn to play. All I need to do is slightly move my arm to emit the best sound. Please do not sling your chimes from side to side as it will sound chaotic. There are instructional videos on Youtube that will teach you how to play your chimes correctly. I did purchase a companion Hokema Kalimba in the same key to play with the Koshi chime. The chimes & kalimba do sound beautiful when played together by 2 people. I personally feel that it would be better for me to play 2 Koshi chimes together as it is easier as my coordination is just so so so. I will be adding more Koshi chimes to my growing collection of musical instruments from WPWT. As always I am pleased with my purchase.


This case makes carrying my monalina so easy and I feel confident that she won’t get damaged.


Easy to set up and very sturdy

Tinka Tong (432 hz) 4 Tunings

The wait is over!!! I am now the proud owner of the Aqua (Blue), Aria (Gold), Terra (Green), & Ignis (Red) Tinka Tongs. I purchased the Aqua first just to test the water, & immediately fell in love with the instrument. I purchased the other 3 Tinka Tongs just as soon as they became available. It adds so much more to the experience to play multiple instruments at once. I line the Tinka Tongs vertically & mainly play 2 at a time. It is fun just to hit random notes & to be amazed at the unique sounds to be made. Every note played is indeed beautiful & harmonious.
The majors & minors do pair well together. The Aqua (D Minor) & the Terra (C Major) pair well together.
The Ignis (G Major) & Aria (A Minor) pair well together.
You are not limited to playing minors & majors together. Both the Terra (C Major) & Ignis (G Major) sound well together- so light & happy.
The instruments are well made & sound amazing.
This is a great company to do business with. Emails are promptly responded to. Orders are mailed via UPS within days. The instruments are exceptionally well packaged & arrive in perfect condition.
I look forward to adding the chimes to my collection in the future- Terra & the Ignis in a few months.
Thanks to the hard working team at WPWT.

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Christine Stevens
Great music therapy and sound healing tool

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I first learned of this instrument through Kalani Das of World Drum Club during his Tuesday night video on Youtube & his special guest, Joule L'Adara of We Play Well Together as they were demonstrating the Water Elemental instruments in D Minor & making all of the instruments sound so beautiful. I have purchased a Diatonic C Major tongue drum that Mr. Das recommended in the past that I have been well pleased with so I was confident in the workmanship. I purchased both the Tinka Tong, my preferred instrument, & the Baby Turtle at the same time. The little Zenko tongue drum sounds exactly as it does in the videos on Youtube. The notes are crystal clear & bell like without the annoying reverb. I much prefer the sound of 432 hz as the sound is pleasing filling me with intense pleasure. The carrying case is well made. I really like this instrument paired with the Tinka Tong as it is like PB&J. My Mother ,who is a stroke victim, was able to place the Baby Turtle in her lap while reclining & play beautifully with me for nearly an hour the 1st time that we played together. Now I must give a shout out to Gabriele who promptly responded to my emails, texts, & phone call. Gabriele was courteous & extremely helpful. My shipment went out quickly & arrived via UPS earlier than expected in a well packaged box. I look forward to a long relationship with this company. The employees really worked hard to meet my needs & I am thankful.

Tinka Tong (Aqua) 432Hz - Elemental Soundscapes Water Collection D Minor

I first learned about this instrument through Kali Das of World Drum Club on his Tuesday night video on Youtube and his special guest, Joule L'Adara, of We Play Well Together as they were demonstrating the instruments of the Soundscapes Water Collection in D Minor. I have previously purchased a Diatonic C Major tongue drum that Mr. Das recommended. This drum was very much enjoyed so I was confident that this Tinka Tong was of excellent workmanship & it is. The videos on Youtube of Feeltone & We Play Together demonstrating these instruments are well worth watching as well as the instruments sound exactly as they do at my home. I purchased both, the Zenko Elemental Aqua (Baby Turtle) & The Tinka Tong in D Minor. Both sound great together; however, I prefer the Tinka Tong as it was love at first sight. The Tinka Tong is visually appealing & unique in sound. I like the new design & size of the instrument. While I have no formal music training, I was able to play well immediately. While there are only 6 tongues, there are a never ending amount of melodies & rhythms to be played. Best of all, there are no wrong notes. Warning: the use of this drum is highly addictive as a feeling of pleasure & calm will wash over you. I played with my Mother who is a stroke victim with Aphasia; however, she was able to follow my rhythm at times as she played the Zenko Element. Her musical ability was excellent as she plays the piano. We enjoyed playing for nearly an hour. Music is so beneficial as it yields a total brain workout. I also have to give a shout out to Gabriele (whom I have contacted via email, text, & phone) for her prompt response to my inquiries & for all of the assistance provided. I ordered my items after business hours on a Friday night. Instruments were mailed out the following Monday & arrived earlier than expected via UPS.


This chime (Ignis/red/g-major) makes absolutely captivating sounds, I really love it. I initially made the investment for a meditation workshop I was leading with college students— many of them said that the 7 or so minutes I spent moving around the room with the chime was the very best ("most magical") part of a very enjoyable weekend. I am excited to fine more ways to share it with others! My cats like it too :)
I love the We Play Well Together business model and ethos, and look forward to bringing them more business.

The lushness of sound

I am a musician. When I was 14 years old I started playing classical guitar. I’m 66 now. I have had a lifelong love of stringed instruments.
About three months ago my wife and I attended a sound bath. As we lay there meditating all the sounds of the evening washed over us and everything was peaceful and then I heard this richness of sound that sounded like a thousand strings moving and pulsing and I sat straight up and looked for the source. The woman who was holding the sound bath was playing a Monolina. I was enthralled by the sound. After the sound bath I went up and I snuck a look at the name and I saw that it said Feeltone
And now its now.
Although the Monolina is be good for sound healing and meditation it is also an instrument with 34 strings! With the use of bridges and alternate tunings I am able to group the strings in note ranges to further utilize its richness of sound. With 34 strings and 10 bridges the possibilities are endless.
As a musician i have seen many hand made instruments. I am very impressed by the ‘luthier’ skills of the people at Feeltone. The instrument is tight. No buzzes. And it looks beautiful. I am looking forward to many years of sound experimentation!
I would also like to the Gabrielle of WePlayWellTogether. She was very helpful. She answered all my many questions promptly and with a positive spirit.
Cool instrument. Nice lady!


I love my sansulas very much. This instrument has allowed me to explore music. The Deluxe has such great sound! This is a great company to work with!

Mallets for Monochords
Kathalin Walker
Great mallets

The felt mallets are wonderful for playing the Monolina. They are easy to hold and create a nice droning sound.

Sansula Repair program
michael jacobs

Very satisfied. The Sansula is as new (is it new?) in the box with paperwork and all. Sounds great!

I just love the tones from this li’l instrument…

…i had enjoyed the Sansula app on iPad for several years and finally got around to buying one. What took me so long!?!!? DOH!!
WPWT took excellent care of this customer, quickly fixing a holdiay rush shipping boo-boo.
I love the instrument as well as the vendor.

Tiny kalimba

I absolutely live my magical little instrument. It travels with me for elemental magic on demand

My favourite instrument in a sound bath

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Love my sansula!

This is my second one. The first one gets so much use from my associate sound practitioners I had to get a second one. It’s a favorite of our clients and group meditation attendees!