What is a kora?

The kora is a double course strung west African bridge-harp. Also defined as harp-lute as it is using a calabash as acoustic body. You can find extended details here:

Kora, the Instrument: Typology

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 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 becoming spread, so discovered by others.

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, who are History keepers of their 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 word.
Nowadays progressively the kora is being taught to other people out from these Jali family linages as these masters are getting more open to foreign intrest about the instrument itself.

How many strings has a Kora?

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

But… if we have a deep look around and follow the footprints of the related harp instruments according to their “features” we can 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 Nna Peke walking north seems to be the Mvet and as we move northen, from Congo to Gambia, in Guinea we find the “smart version” of these basic double strung harps in the shape of the SEPEREWA that is basically already a kora, a version of kora with less strings.

Where to find kora artists / players?

If you are looking for kora players here you can check a list of some of them with a link to a video-sound demo:

Kora players (MCS List)