I recently wrote a piece for a kora musician starting up his online teaching business. The kora is a stringed instrument sometimes called the West African harp.
I loved researching the history of the kora and its role in West African history and culture. It’s a completely different perspective on how we learn music in the West.
Here’s an excerpt:
Learn the Kora, Live the Culture
You’ll gain much more than how to play an instrument when you learn the kora.
First, understand what it is.
A piece of handcrafted African rosewood, half a dried-out calabash covered with cow, sheep or antelope hide. And twenty-one strings held together by the tuning ring.
These basic elements represent the earth and the plant and animal kingdoms. Combined they create the kora, the West African “harp”.
But it’s the hands and musicianship of a kora player that bring it to life.
You’ll learn notes and chords when you begin. Harmonies, dynamics and melodies will follow with dedicated practice.
Yet your kora learning goes beyond technical skills.
Develop a relationship with the kora and realize how it weaves a story and connects people across space and time.
For classically trained musicians from the West, there’s the chance to learn new rhythms and musical dialogue. You’ll be challenged to think differently and express yourself in ways you hadn’t known before.
You’ll witness how to craft powerful stories with words and music honed by decades of learning. Gain insights into the centuries-old tradition of passing on knowledge from father to son.
Learn about the Jali families and their revered status as genealogists, record-keepers and historians. They serve a fundamental role at all births, deaths and marriages in West African society even today. As mediators when conflicts arise, they are guardians of community, faith, family and friendship.
But the kora isn’t stuck in the past.
It’s featured in numerous contemporary collaborations. Blur’s Damon Albarn and Toumani Diabate paired up to produce the incredible Mali Music (2002). The Spanish flamenco band Ketama recorded albums Songhai (1988) and Songhai 2 (1994) with Diabate and British bass player Danny Thompson. And a unique partnering between Ballake Sissoko and cellist Vincent Segal saw the birth of Chamber Music (2009) in a creative mixture of Segal’s trip hop cello style and kora music.
More importantly, young West African rap and hip-hop artists continue to express the sentiments of their society, a nod to their Jaliyan roots.
You too can participate in this unique musical world. Learn the kora today and be a part of its evolving culture.