West Africa


Updating article

Name: Kora [in French, cora].

Type: Bridged Harp Lute > Chordophones.

Regions: Many > West Africa.

Dimensions: Length of kora / Length / Width of calabash.

Acquisition Date: Christmas gift.

Acquisition Source: The Pacific Drum Store, Vancouver B.C. Canada.
Description: The kora is a 21 stringed harp lute that is a member of the cordophone family of musical instruments. Often this instrument is classified as a “double bridge harp lute”. Prior to printed documentation the precise origins of the kora are obscure. Numerous stories have survived through oral transmission. Early European references to the kora are documented by the Scottish Explorer Mungo Park (b. 1771 – d. 1806) whose book “Travels in Interior Districts of Africa” published in 1799 described a type of kora having 18 strings under the name “korro”. Upon the arrival of the 20th century, the appreciation of the kora is widely enjoyed by West African and International audiences. The kora is widely appreciated both in West Africa and continues to gain popularity with international audiences.

Regional Varieties:
The family of African harps as on the continent of Africa is quite broad. While focusing on West Africa there are very close relatives to the kora that include the 3 to 4 stringed Bolon known by its alternate names bolombata, bolombato or bolumbata it is found in Gambia, Guinea and Mali. A 4 to 6 stringed donsonkoni or dunsin koni is found in Mali and Guinea. In the Cote de Ivory [Ivory Coast] three types of harp can be found, one called the boroboro having only two strings, and the kori having 6 strings. The third harp called a “ko” having up to 6 and or 7 strings. In Ghana one fines the 6-stringed Seperewa. A 15 to 20 stringed seron is found in Guinea. In Gambia and Senegal one would find a 5 to 6 stringed simbi. A 22 stringed kora is found in the Cassamence region of Senegal.

Further Development:
Is continuing with the kora multiple approaches involving the altering of designs, improving the acoustic or musical features from tuning to portability. Rescently smaller sized kora'sare are being made, in a much smaller size then their larger counter parts due to the demands of portability from musicians. Currently improvements include amplified koras, to the gravikord a kora like instrument invented and developed by Bob Grawi in 1986.

Anatomy of the Kora: It is constructed from numerous materials; first the calabash is cut in half, and the meet is scooped out from the inside, then the back and front holes are cut into the calabash, which is dried there after. Animal hide is attached to the calabash with thumb tacks to hold the hide in place. The main shaft where the strings are attached too that serves as the neck is inserted directly into the calabash. The thumb tacks are also placed in ornamental patterns while serving as the the function which holds the membrane together with the calabash. The membrane that forms the body, is supported by two handles that travel through the instrument parallel to the shaft, there is a piece of wood that travels vertically across the handles and shaft to provide structural support of the instrument while it is under tension from the strings. The shaft, left, right handles and bridge [on my kora] are made from bubinga wood (African rose wood or Guilbourtia spp). The strings are stretched from the iron ring at the back, through the bridge to the end of the shaft. Traditionally animal hide is used for the “sonso” tuning rings on the shaft. Although the sonso tuners the standard musicians do find them difficult to keep in tune, when adjusting the pitch on the strings. Recently modified or converted kora’s are becoming quite popular in both West Africa and outside. Modified tuners can be made from adjustable pipe clamps to the installation of guitar tuners. The strings of the kora travel from an iron ring located at the bottom of the gourd, which holds the strings in place through the bridge to top of the neck. The bridge of the kora is horizontally aligned and supported on a cloth wrapped support.

Select Discography: Al Haji Bai Konte (Brikama, Gambia b. 1920 d. 1982 or 1983) Kora melodies from the Republic of Gambia, West Africa album released 1973 in LP format , Djeli Moussa Diawara (Kankan Guinea b.1962), Foday Musa Suso (Sarre Hamadi Village, Gambia). Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate -In the heart of the moon released September 13, 2005 , Nonesuch records, Ali & Toumani Nonesuch records

Citations: / Kora > > / Tunings > Foday Musa Suso (official site) > Bibiolography: New Grove Dictionary of Music G to O Vol. 2 by Stanley Sadie -Page 461. Mande Music of West Africa by Eric Charry, University of Chicago Press 2000.