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Traditional Musical Instrument: Kora of West Africa

2021-11-17
Lingua:English
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There are countless different types of musical instruments in the world. How did musical instruments come about and what inspired their ingenious inventors? Supreme Master Ching Hai once revealed the following knowledge to us: “In ancient times, the spiritual practitioners who are connected to Heaven, at times tried to replicate the mesmerizing, wonderful music of the celestial abode by creating instruments. So, many of the instruments we have –like the harp, the piano, the violin, the flute, the Scottish bagpipes, etc. – they all correlate with the sounds of real Heavenly realms, except the real ones are much more incredibly uplifting.”

The kora is a unique plucked string musical instrument that’s played extensively in West Africa. This hand-made harp-lute instrument belongs to the family of calabash harps in the West African Mandinka culture. As one of the most sacred musical instruments in this region, it’s said that the kora is able to facilitate communication between members of different cultures.

The kora is played in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and The Gambia. In Guinea, kora players are called lute carriers, while in Senegal they are known as carriers of a hand drum, sabar. The origin of the kora is closely linked to the Jalis of the Mali Empire.

A traditional kora player is called a korafola and is a successor of the Jali families of oral historians, genealogists and storytellers. The kora has a combination of lute-like and harp-like features. Typically, the instrument has 21 strings and is played by plucking with the fingers. In recent years, as a compassionate alternative to the traditional materials, wooden soundboard has been adopted by some artists to create vegan koras that sound amazing and look stylish.

Music for the kora is a part of the oral tradition of West Africa and its written form has only been present since the 20th century. Some traditional kora music is recorded by ethnomusicologists in the normal grand staff method using the G clef and F clef. Africa’s first female griot kora virtuoso is Sona Jobarteh. Her grandfather was the master Griot, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh. Sona Jobarteh is a renowned singer and composer who blends traditional music with blues and Afropop to produce impressive pieces of music.
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