Saturday’s Instrument: The Kora, the African pluck string instrument.

Kora is the African harp, consisting of 21 strings with a magical sound. This African plucked string combines the features of Lute and Harp.

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Kora’s sound range is a little more than three octaves. It can be tuned in different keys, therefore the range can be altered a little bit.

A kora is a Mandinka harp built from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck. The skin is supported by two handles that run under it. It has 21 strings, each playing a different note. It supports a notched double free-standing bridge. It doesn't fit into any one category of musical instrument, but rather a several, and must be classified as a "double-bridge-harp-lute".

Kora’s sound is so similar to Harp, though the traditional playing techniques, make it sound like flamenco or gypsy guitar or lute.

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Some of the most famous Kora players are:

  • Sona Jobarteh

  • Foday Musa Suso

  • Ballaké Sissoko

  • Toumani Diabaté

  • Seckou Keita

The origin of Kora is unknown, the first descriptions of an instrument that resembles the Kora go back to 14 century. But there is no evidence on where or when it has been built first. The northern part of Africa uses more of this instrument.

The French Benedictine monks of the Keur Moussa Abbey in Senegal were possibly the first to introduce guitar machine heads for Kora instead of leather rings in the late seventies. They also conceived a method based on scores to teach the instrument. Brother Dominique Catta, the choirmaster of the Keur Moussa Abbey, was the first Western composer who wrote for the kora (solo pieces as well as duets with Western instruments).

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The magical sound and shape of Kora can make you experience a new world through with it. Don’t miss on listening more to this amazing unworldly instrument.

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