Type: Harp Lute > Chordophone.
Region: Many > West Africa.
Hornbostel-Sach Name: Harp Lute.
Hornbostel-Sach No#: 323
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.
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. Modern kora: There are numerous musical instrument builders who perform custom modifications, conversions or build their own designs such as the gravi-kora invented by Robert Grawi in 1986.
Further development: Is continuing with the kora altering the designs and improving it's musical features from tuning to portability, in West Africa kora'sare being made in a much smaller size then their larger counterparts due to the demands of portability from musicians. Currently instruments based off the kora are being developed by many makers, inventors and makers alike including the gravikord a kora like instrument developed by Bob Grawi in 1986.
Construction: The kora is constructed from numerous materials; first the calabash is cut in half, and the meet is scooped out from the inside. Sound holes are then cut into the calabash. A membrane of animal hide is tacked with thumbtacks in place and then dried by direct exposure to the sun over time. The main shaft inserted into the calabash provides the structural support for the strings when stretched in parallel over the same bridge. A pair of shafts of bubinga wood or of (African rose wood or Guilbourtia spp) inserted parallel in between the membrane. At the bottom end of the kora, a large circular iron ring is inserted into the shaft. This ring allows for the strings to be stretched over the bridge from ring to tuners. Recent innovations in Kora include instruments of smaller sized calabash for portability or electric instruments like the gravichord were developed. Traditional tuners made of animal hide called “sonso” are still used although machine gear tuners are becoming popular.
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
References: New Grove Dictionary of Music G to O Vol. 2 by Stanley Sadie -Page 461. Manding Music of West Africa by Eric Charry, University of Chicago Press 2000.