Origins of the Kora

by Christina Barnett, and Kent JonesOrigins…The Kora is a Mandengo 21-stringed chordophonic calabash bridge-harp that is plucked simultaneously with both hands. The strings are arranged with eleven strings in the left hand, and ten in the right. The scale alternates between left and right strings. Traditionally, only Djelis play the instrument, but since it has been exported to the west, there are non-djeli players and amateurs who have picked it up. The first western account of the Kora was by the Scottish explorer Mungo Park in the eighteenth century, but Mandengo legend attributes its creation to Jali Madi Wuleng (with the help of a jinn) during the Kabu empire. He is attributed with the composition of Kuruntu Kelefa and Kelefaba, the earliest pieces in memory for the Kora. (“Mande Music”, Charry, 2000)

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