This is the most recent Njari that I have built. Below is a diagram of the note layout that I have developed and become accustomed to playing.

In this 39 reed instrument that spans 3 octaves and a third I have managed to keep the traditional pair of mid and high 4’s for each thumb as well as include a mid 3 on the right lower rank which is bent up (as in Matepe) to gain the access of the left thumb too if it happens to be hanging around in that area at the required moment. Before I build an Njari for somebody I ask for the measurement of the distance between the tip of their left thumb and left middle finger. This measurement determines the width of the soundboard they will get. The owner of the Njari above has smaller hands and therefore I have beaten the reeds less in order to create a narrower soundboard. (The result is longer reeds.) I also gave the wood a waist to help in that regard and the rest of the reach needed will be attained in the natural gradual stretching of their palm muscles through playing.

Typically in Njari the 4 outer left reeds are plucked from below with the forefinger while the thumb can be playing the same notes an octave higher or lower. The mid range 1,2,3 (on left) can also be plucked from below with the forefinger while the thumb can choose between the lower octave 1,2,3 or a variety of octaves of 4,5,6. I use spring steel and brass for the reeds and in the lower octave each reed has three tuned notes:- the fundament, the 1st overtone 2 octaves and a third higher and the 2nd overtone an octave and a third above the 1st overtone. Therefore the deepest note 1 is comprised of a chord 1-3-5, the 2nd note a chord 2-4-6 and so on up.

For me the greatest challenges in building any mbira are in settling the bridge into the wood evenly for optimum sound transmission into the soundboard and in tying the bar onto the headstock perfectly so that the reeds are held with the correct pressure. Not too tight that they struggle to get in and not too loose that they need to be constantly bent to attain adequate tension. I choose to tie the bar onto the board traditionally rather than use nuts and bolts.

James Wake

For some years in the 2000’s I painted using a pseudonym. Phillip Nangle the musician was also the artist James Wake. That way we didn’t get in each others hair.  So if you have a Wake painting  and you can’t explain why you like it so much and/or are unsure as to whether it has any value, rest assured; It is a Nangle!

Painting “The Fisherman and his Wife” by Phillip Nangle. Oil on Wood 2007


Segaba also known as segankore is the national instrument of Botswana. It is a traditional overtone violin with a short bow. By varying the tension of the bow with the thumb it can produce a very large pitch range. The string is usually stopped from below or the side in two or three positions and really good players are known to make the instrument speak. Traditionally it is used to accompany song and topical commentary.

Traditional Botswana violin in progress. Chestnut body with Rose wood pegs. I use a Cello peg reamer for a perfect fit.

Bass Segaba using an Mbira deze as the resonator. The oldest Segaba I have seen has the resonator built up out of cow-dung. The contemporary resonator is a 5 litre oil drum scrunched tight onto the wooden body.

My two string soprano Segaba with a wooden resonator. For the bow I use the hairs from the tail of a wildebeest.

I’d rather live in a…

I sleep in a Cathedral in a bed from which I gaze with one uncovered eye into an infinite perspective. The poles that hold the structure of my room rise into the heavens and play tidily-winks with the shooting stars. Occasionally a bird, a pigeon or an eagle rests on a pole-top endangering my one opened eye in the pool of my room below. One of my ears is silenced by water and so half the world is obliterated. When the moon is bright my Cathedral glows and the silhouette of a horse moves elongated around the circular wall. The fire that warms me and keeps me company makes my home a glowing neon cone. All my actions and non-actions may be read from afar and from within by my shadow that is my halting of firelight reaching the circumference of the Cathedral. If I huddle close to the fire I appear a giant to passers-by. When I return to my bed the dream of my previous sleep awaits me on my pillow. I share my bed with mice, bugs, spiders, grasshoppers, ants and ticks. I have no fear for when the cobra may come in search of the mice because the cobra is only dangerous when cornered and my room being round has no corners. The fifteen poles that rise from the ground around me are lashed together in the distance above. At this point my Cathedral is dressed with a massive cloth with flowing lips of a mouth that can be opened wide or closed. In the morning a sunlit spear pierces it’s way through the opened mouth and stabs a bright shaft onto the inner wall of the Cathedral. At the moment chosen by time a mouse runs down my leg and high up above a fish-eagle cries. It is time to rise and leave the dreams embedded deep in my feather pillow for later recall.

Excerpt from “Writings at Red Hill” Phillip Nangle 2006

Painting by Phillip Nangle  “The Journey” 2004