njariThe njari originated in Mozambique, and when it spread to Zimbabwe it quickly became the most popular type of mbira in the country (although it relinquished the throne to the mbira dzavadzimu in the middle of the 20th century). It’s similar to the matepe in that they’re both mainly played in eastern Zimbabwe as well as in Mozambique, and in that it uses both thumbs and both index fingers. Both instruments are also played in a similar style and repertoire to many other mbira types in the region. However, that’s where the resemblance stops! In fact, the njari comes from an entirely different sub-tribe of the Shona, and has a key layout more similar to the karimba than to the matepe or mbira dzavadzimu.

Njari made by Jacob MafuleniIts playing technique also has several unique features. For example, the right hand, and sometimes the left also, has keys in octaves that are positioned right above each other and close enough together to be played in a single stroke, like a 12-stringed guitar. There are also more notes that are duplicated in both hands than on any other mbira; in fact, the left hand is almost an exact mirror image of the right with some bass notes added in.  (The njari has around 30 keys, covering a range of slightly over 2 octaves.) These features make it well suited for playing a melody with many repeated notes in a given octave, but less well-suited to playing the type of spread-out melodies common on mbira dzadvazimu and matepe. The best analogy I can think of to give mbira dza vadzimu players a sense of what playing njari is like, is that the njari is like a dongonda tuning mbira, but with every note played in two octaves instead of one, and laid out a bit more like a nyunga-nyunga/karimba.

Njari-related Links

Information on the history of the Njari:


Njari albums:



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