Our name is taken from the wood of choice for woodwind instrument making. This amazing material African Blackwood, Latin name – Dalbergia Melonoxylon, Swahili name – Mpingo is one of the most valuable timbers in the world. Found predominantly in East Africa, the current street value of one cubic metre of wood from the saw mill is £10,000. Due to the exacting quality required, a billet with a pin hole size flaw is rejected in the workshop, only 8% of all harvested timber ultimately being realised as a musical instrument.
African blackwood is so dense that it sinks in water. So slow growing that if you planted the seed today, you would be blowing your first notes in 100 years’ time. Currently the wood is being used at an unsustainable rate. Already commercially extinct in Kenya, in Tanzania despite it being their national tree, it is thought mature trees are unlikely to last more than 20 years.
And now for some good news! In the last few years, woodwind instrument makers, enthusiastically encouraged by Green Peace, have made huge advances involving efficiencies in manufacturing. Buffet Crampon of Paris, one of the world’s largest clarinet manufacturers has developed a technique to utilise almost 100% of the tree, by reducing it to dust and then hydraulically re-forming a new wood billet without grain and with optimum density.
New plantations in Florida show great promise for the future, and in the last 18 years the African Blackwood Conservation Project has planted over 1,000,000 new Mpingo’s in the region of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Most recently the convention on international trade in endangered species “CITES” has ruled that African blackwood falls within new regulations designed to conserve hardwoods and counter the detrimental impact of unsustainable logging. Imports and exports of the material are now closely regulated within the EU. The wood can now be tracked back from the music store to the manufacturer and ultimately back to the plantation where the tree was grown.