What is a kora?

The kora is a double course strung bridge-harp (from West Africa) that belongs to the manding people (mandingka). The kora is also defined as a “harp-lute” as it is using a calabash conforming its acoustic body. You can read extended details here

Where is played the kora?

The ‘where is played the kora’ question is answered by ‘which people traditionally plays the kora’. The kora is played by the Jali families of the Manding people (Mandingaka) and wherever they are living the kora and their music has been moving always with them.
In Africa seems a starting point was Guinea-Bissau and gradually reached Guinea, Senegal, Gambia (where it became “the golden age and place” of the kora) and finally Mali.
Nowadays the kora, apart from West Africa, is played all around the world as many Manding Jali family members are moving outside Africa and this is why this instrument is being spread and becoming more and more popular all around the globe.

Who traditionally plays the kora?

Originally the kora was and it is played by the Jali, a musicians family class (also called griot) from the Manding ethnic (Mandingka), who are keepers of their history and culture. They are very appreciated storytellers that sing about kings, wars, important events and figures and also with their kind of “cure aura” they work as conciliators of problems between their people using the healing vibes of music and their word (full of wisdom).

Today, the kora is being progressively taught to other people outside the circle of these Jali families as these teachers are becoming more open to foreign interest in the instrument itself largely… less interested in its traditional music and lesser to the historical content of its repertoire.

In this link you can hear music of kora players >>

How many strings has a kora?

Usually standard koras have 21 or 22 strings that are made of: nylon monofilament (the most common material), also are made of gut, fluorocarbon or/and metal wire.
Can be found koras of 24 strings (with the full bass range missing in the koras of 21 or 22  strings)… and finally very rare ones of more strings.

Origins of the kora

The origins of the kora is not written anywhere as in Africa all is transmited orally and the only stories known about this harp origins are related to magic and spirits from the forests that gave a kora to someone that became the first person to start playing it. By the other hand we find different Jali families assuring the kora was born (or first played) inside their family lineage, so there is different versions with a little of dispute in this matter.

“Kouyates (Kouyate family) were the first Jalis (griot) family in Manding. The Sussoh or Sissoko are descendent of Fakoli, a general of Sunjata. Inside the Susso there are Horon, Jalis, Blacksmiths…”

From a “technical construction view” if we have a deep look around and follow the footprints of the related harp around, according to their “features”, we find in Congo what is conceptually the basic principles of the kora in the structure of the Ngombi Na Peke (double strung bridge-harp) from the hands of the Baka people. A more developed version of the Ngombi Na Peke walking north seems to be the Mvet and as we move northen, from Congo to Gambia, in Guinea we find an “smart version” of these previous basic double strung harps in the shape of the SEPEREWA that is basically already a kora, a version of kora with less strings.

Here you can read more (spanish)

Where to listen some reference of kora musicians?

If you are looking to know more about the kora players here you can check a list of some of them with a link to a video-sound demo of each one.