Kora History

West African stringed instrument with 21 strings of the family of bridge harps or harp-lutes

Related Instruments:
Harp, Lute, Soron, Bolon, Simbi, Donso Ngoni, Kamele Ngoni, Seperewa

“Oral traditions agree on general points about the history of the kora but diverge according to the family and the geographic origin of the individual speaking.
Ultimately, inquiries into the origins of the kora lead to ‘jinns’ (genies, arab.)” Quote from the book ‘Mande Music’ by Eric Charry

Main Exponents:
Toumani Diabate, Mory Kante, Foday Musa Suso, Ballake Cissoko, Madou Sidiki Diabate, Prince Diabate, Sekou Keita, N’Fali Kouyaté

A traditional kora is built from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin or goat skin to make a resonator, and has a notched bridge. The sound of a kora resembles that of a harp. The player uses the thumb and index finger of both hands to pluck the strings in polyrhythmic patterns (using the remaining fingers to hold the vertical bars on either side of the strings to secure the instrument). Ostinato patterns (“Kumbengo”) and   improvised solo runs (“Birimintingo”) are played simultaneously.  Kora players traditionally come from griot (jali, jeli) families who are historians, genealogists and storytellers who pass their skills and knowledge on to their descendants. The instrument is mainly played in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and the Gambia. Koras feature 21 strings, eleven played by the left hand and ten by the right. Strings were originally made from thin strips of hide – now most strings are made from nylon monofilament or fishing line.