top of page
  • pe2s-isgi

Musical instrument Kora from West Africa

My Kora and Origin of Kora, etc.

In June 2023, I had my kora made by the Manding Griot, Karamo Cissokho. It has been the custom of Griot performers to make their own instruments. The kora is an instrument unique to Manding, musically classified as a harp-lute. There are many theories about its history, and one of them is in 1623, a document on traveling along the Gambia River describes a six-stringed instrument like the kora. However, Griot claims that the kora has existed much longer than the literature, and in fact, the author was told by Karamo that it existed before the Mali Empire and the Cissokho family was the original inventors of the kora. According to a story, Jali Madi Wuleng, a hunter who was taught the knowledge, performance method and structure of kora by a djinn (fairy), spread the kora with his disciple Koriying Musa Suso (or Cissokho). This story is quite similar to the one told by Karamo that a member of the Cissokho family was ordered by a god on an island in the river to gather materials from animals and plants for making a kora, and that they were able to successfully produce it and return alive. Besides the Cissokho family, the Kouyate (Kuyateh), Diabate (Jobateh), and Konte (Kanute) families are also known today as kora Griot families. The author's kora is approximately 120 cm high, 40 cm wide, and has a neck length of 80 cm, with 22 strings (usually 21). The body is made of half a gourd, with white cow hide attached with studs, and the stud pattern, which can be seen from the audience, decorates the instrument. The sound hole is oval and is used to keep string spares, etc., and performers may keep the money paid by the audience. The teak neck and a board that supports nylon strings, grip rods and a rod that runs horizontal to the neck make up the instrument. Instead of leather rings around the neck for tuning that would be a traditional way, my kora was a modern version with stainless tuners and an outlet for an amplifier, so it could be called a modern kora. Incidentally, my harpsichord is also categorized as a modern harpsichord, which integrated the strengths of pianoforte. As a complete novice kora player, traditional tuning would have been impossible, if not the modern version of tuning. The middle finger, ring finger and little finger are placed on the grip bars on both sides of the neck, and the music is played with thumbs and index fingers that are used to pluck, strum and stop 21 strings on each side that are applied to the bridge. Traditionally four heptatonic tunings and modern tuning methods are also used. The left side scales are F, C, D, E, G, B, D, F, A, C, E; the right-side scales are F, A, C, E, G, B, D, F, G, A. The technique is difficult to master in kora playing because the index finger and thumb are independent. So, when boys are born in the Griot family, they learn their respective instruments at an early age. Sona Jabarteh of Gambia, the first woman to become a kora player, spoke in a BBC interview, "I am part of the tradition and always responsible for infusing something new into the tradition.”


bottom of page