My first exposure to the kora was a video I discovered on YouTube 10 years ago:

The kora originated in western Africa, dating back to the fifteenth century. It shares characteristics of the harp and lute. It has 21 strings that are plucked with the thumb and index fingers of both hands (the other fingers hold the instrument).

I had forgotten about it, but there was a segment on 60 Minutes last Sunday that featured Sona Jobarteh, one of the first female Kora players ever. Click the link to watch it; it’s fascinating. I learned that playing the kora was a privilege passed from father to son for hundreds of years, limited to certain families known as griot or jali. Jali is a Mandinka word that means historian or storyteller.

In this video, you can clearly see the musician’s hands as he plays:

Here’s a trio including a kora:

If one kora is good, two are twice as good:

An hour-long concert with Sona Jobarteh:

My husband, Greg, said the kora reminded him of a banjo. That makes sense, because the first banjos were created by enslaved Africans in North America–they tried to make something familiar with the materials available to them.

What do you think? I could listen to the kora for hours.

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

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