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.



“And so why another coffee?” he thought, “Well why not? It is another day!” Another extraordinary day it turned out! The Shona Mysteries had engulfed him and the coffee turned half-cold. This occurred regularly to the coffees in some vain hope that not being piping hot, the another coffees “why not?” arising from the “why” in the first place, a worry, would stop. Cold or hot he knew the caffeine that comes wrapped in that bean does the same thing each time.

Now any serious coffee-drinker knows that this muddy liquid requires an accompanist or two; “one himself,” he thought “and another the muddy leaves of my good lady Tabakka! Well, that completes the Trinity, creates the Tabernacle, a muddy cloud round the head, my self-engrossed ritual of being Separate and All in One.”

With the thought of yet again becoming a flat muddy fish burrowed under the sea-sand awaiting some foot, he reached for the tobacco pouch and papers. En-route his hand touched on the coffee’s ear, gently enough not to break the adhesive quality of the sugar crystals that threatened to create the tabletop and cup inseparable. “I like that!” he thought while spreading the lovely Lady Leaves onto a Master Leaf. “This adds diction! The cup like me is sitting fast, held by sugar spilled in a jittery stir of the fourth cup. Yes! Sitting fast, not standing slow or lying medium pace.”

Her Highness or Cleopatra rolled up in her carpet, he prodded his last Lion head into both ends of his new-made friend and proceeded in a task so remarkable, even miraculous, that each time it was performed it was as if it was the first. What he set about doing was to place her one end at his most intimate expression, between his lips, and her other he effected to burn by command of a tiny piece of the Sun. “Aaah, now I have my Mother and my Father! And I am the Son! Vulcan, Valerian, the Phoenix rising, the transmutation of my any concern into a moment of enshrouded blissful now.”

A great big fish began flattening itself out around him, pierced by sunlight swords now apparent to have their source in tiny holes in the wall. The fish was lazy, moving slowly, and after a few fishy kisses upon his lips it became obvious that it was agitated and being a mudfish, could not breathe in the air. He blew a few smoke-rings and reached for the brown shoreline to lift up to the gaping fish. Anticipating a minor sugar-snap release scenario and steadying himself so as not to spill what is as once as treasured as the spinal fluid of the whale and a sticky mess splashed and ringed on tables and documents, he grabbed onto the ear or nose of the cup and pulled. There was no give and he pulled again slightly harder, muscles flexed to absorb the shock of surely then the give of the sugar crystal adhesion.

No give! “My Goodness!” This time he pulled at the nose or ear of the cup with enough force that if it had come loose a sticky mess would have been ensured. Instead the table moved a twitch. He held onto the cup for an eternity while the fish grew and guffawed in breathless spasms and was joined by smaller growing bigger fish which filled the room-plate like sand-dunes in the desert of his black-sea-lessness. Time passed his index, middle fingers and thumb hanging onto the ear as though it belonged to an errant child whose guardian was checked, lefted, righted, stopped and started by ear control. He put down the roll-up and used that hand to counteract the force at which he honestly now did not know when the cup would liberate itself from the table. He would find out, starting with slight pressure and slowly increasing. He squeezed and pulled on the ear of the cup, pulling harder and harder, more and more until in complete exasperation the table began to drag itself in tiny bumps across the floor.

“I don’t believe it, this is ridiculous, this is absurd!? How can my cup be stuck to the table?!”

The Fish was dying a horrible death and fearful of a disaster ritual, he plunged his nose and mouth deep into the cup to resuscitate the rapidly depleting cozy golden moment. No fortune or reprieve was granted for the “why”, a worry, which were a dime-a-dozen, had made a three-quarter cup of coffee to which his hopefully slurping lips were out of reach of yet which soaked his moustache wet up to nose height. The fish was all skeleton now and like a mist clearing, a glimmer of life in an umbilicum thinning to nothing. Quickly, in fear of a separation or possibly even divorce he plucked her half-butt roll-up to his lips and mouth-to-mouthed the ailing fish which instantly died in a fizz in his whopping, sopping moustache. The life cycle of the ceremony with all it’s parts running off each other was broken. Divorce, not only eminent, had now taken place. The shafts of light were gone, the sun dead, the sea cold and black and stuck to the table. He tried twisting the cup to the side using the ear as fulcrum, clockwise then anti. Only he turned and his chair with him. Getting a spoon from the kitchen he sipped at the sea. This was not like subtracting insult from injury.

With his mother and father gone he was no longer the only begotten son but rather a lonely baby in a designated area’s cold sand-pit playing with cat-shit because neither the father nor the mother had given even 2 minutes time to play with baby in the sand-pit which is as long as one needs to smell that the cats have no where else and never did have anywhere else to dig their pooh away. Daddy did one day dig with baby at the sand-pit when he was too sick to go to work and unfortunately he being bunged up smelt nothing and he being strung out saw nothing but his self; absorbed in a vacant space as he absent-mindedly broke up baby’s plastic toy.

painting sun moon njanja fish (oil on board) and writing by P.Nangle ( both early 2000’s)

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