Origin of the Kora by Yerko Lorca:


The Kora is the harp of West Africa, or more specifically of the Mandinka ethnic group and the lineage of the Djelis, which are focussed in an area that currently extends throughout parts of Senegal, Casamasce, Gambia, Mali and Guinea.


The sound of the kora resembles the celtic harp on the low notes and the spanish flamenco guitar with the improvisation of the high notes.


Djeli means he who tells stories or sings poems. They are masters of the spoken word and of ceremonies, responsible for educating the people, historians, experts of genealogy, counsellors of the emperor and of kings, mediators and diplomats, singers and musicians. The moment in which the djelis do this work is called Jaliyaa.


This clan are the guardians of history as it was a culture that was entirely passed down by oral transmission. Therefore a djeli has the responsibility of acting as a bridge between the past and the future, with a strict law that stated that lies were prohibited.


The instruments of the djeli clan are song, the djeli n'ngoni (like a small guitar with few strings), the tama (small drum where one tightens the strings to change the note), the balafon (similar to the xylophon), the dun Khassunke (base percussion accompanied by a bell), and the kora.
Each song is a tale, an anecdote, a story, remembered by a song in the form of poetry. The original languages is manden.


Elements of the traditional Kora:

The traditional kora is made of half a pumpkin gourd, cow or antelope skin, three wooden studs (a soundbox), a mast that goes through the pumpkin gourd, at the bottom there is a ring of metal (from where the strings emerge) near to where the kora is placed on the the ground.


In the higher part there are 21 Konsuls (plaited leather rings) which are used to tune the Kora. A wooden bridge to support the strings and below this a wooden platform covered in fabric to help to pass the sound from the soundbox.


Finally the 21 strings, formerly made of gut but now of fishing nylon. They begin in the metal ring at the bottom of the mast, passing over the bridge and ending in the konsul.


They say that each element of the Kora has a meaning.

The pumpkin, is the earth.
The skin, the animals.
The strings, the plants and the trees.
The metal ring, the magic.


21 is a very important number in their culture.

In the 21 strings that make up the kora, 7 heal the past, 7 harmonize the present and 7 protect the future.

The importance also rests on the belief that there are 21 phases in the life of each person.



There are many legends for the Kora.

It is very difficult to prove who invented the Kora since the conclusion in the legends is that some spirits, who would be interpreted as angels in the Western world, brought it. They say that the first kora had 3 strings.


But there are a few historical records that say mention the first recognised korista. This man was Jali Madi Wuleng. Some say that Jali appears in the era of emperor Sundjata Keita (1217 - 1255 AD) and others Kaabu o Gabu empire (1537 - 1867 AD).


Modern Kora:

This instrument evolved based on need as well as other things. 


The kónsuls are replaced by wooden tuning keys, of the spanish guitar, electric guitar or bass.They say that the first koras with tuners were built by Catholic monks installed in West Africa for a French priest.


The priest wanted the sweet sound of the kora in songs in Mass, but for the musicians it was not easy to be continuously changing tuning between songs. So to meet this need they became pioneers in the construction of the first kora with tuning keys as well as the first chromatic kora.

Thanks to Yerko Lorka for letting us use his detailed and impeccable description.

More in www.yerkolorca.com




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A Taste of Africa

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