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.

Chromatic Kora (in progress)


“Oh No! A Chromatic Kora!!” (in the making) Oh dear, couldn’t resist..haha! What you can do with that 12 string Jumbo Guitar forgotten in the cupboard! (Handlebars still to be put on).

The strings sit in two ranks of 6 whole tones of the chromatic scale. Notice there are no gaps in the upper rank of the chromatic marimba in the photograph because it is also in a double 6 layout (2 whole tone scales). In considering building a chromatic mbira a good option is this layout with pitches ascending in semi-tones alternating left, right, left, right etc..(as in the progression of notes of the kalimba and the kora) The double 6 chromatic layout is symmetrical and each particular chord shape in the fingers or the mallets remains the same throughout like with the ascending bar chords on the guitar.

The Boiling Ferment

Music Notation Series



I painted “The Boiling Ferment” (acrylic on canvas 104x67cm) round the same time that I arranged and recorded this piece of music “Nhem.5/7” which was performed on 3 octave karimbas.

These took place during the process of my partner and I producing 220 litres of our own wine. Although growing one’s food oneself is time-consuming, the satisfaction of doing so is immense.

World music workshop

From April 1st until 4th I will teach a series of workshops on african music and rhythm organized by ONE WORLD, the first edition of Intercultural Music Festival in Neu Isenburg (Frankfurt – Germany).

Workshops for African, Arab, Afghanistan and Indian music. Improvisation, arrangement and composition. For young and adults with or without music knowledge. Musicians and singers are welcome.

Part of the workshops results will be performed at the final concert on the 14th of April.

South African music – Phillip Nangle

Arrangment and composition – Volker Staub

Afghanistan, Arab and Indian music – Ustad Ghulam Hussain and others

Improvisation and secret rhythmic interaction – Torsten de Winkel