The Kora:

the Instrument Heard 'Round the World


The Kora is an indigenous West African instrument that African-Americans took and incorporated into their own folk tunes. The Kora is a string instrument in the calabash harp family and has a whopping twenty-one strings. It has the most strings of any any string instrument except for the pedal harp which has forty-seven strings. Because the Kora has so many strings, it gave Africans and African-Americans room to showcase their skill, versatility, and creativity. The Kora is a handmade instrument made from natural materials. The Kora is played like a harp with two hands allowing its musicians to play both the melody in the rhythm together. Griots, indigenous West African traveling artist, would use the Kora to pass on the tradition of oral history. Songs sung with Kora accompaniment are often storytelling songs or songs with deep meaning and emotion.


Listen, Learn, and Enjoy!

Importance & Meaning:

The Kora was such an important instrument to Black folk music because there was no instrument that sounded the same or added what it could to any song. Although the origin of the Kora traces back to West Africa; it’s roots are way deeper. The word Kora originated from one of the earliest world languages, Sanskrit. The word Kora most nearly means journey. This is ironic because the Kora’s journeyed to all different parts of the world, and integrated itself into many different cultures.

Famous Kora Players:

Toumani Diabaté

Toumani Diabaté is a famous Kora player from Mali. He was born into a griot family. His family has been playing the Kora for generations.

Ballaké Sissoko

Balllaké Sissoko is known worldwide as a prestigious Kora player. He is from Mali. He is known for modernizing the Kora. He currently lives in Paris. One of the biggest upsets of his career was when flying home from New York, his irreplaceable handmade Kora arrived back to him from US customs completely destroyed.

Sona Jaboreth

Sona Jaboreth is a female Kora player from Gambia. She is very unique because she comes from a griot family, and she is the only female. Her cousin is Toumani Diabaté.

Kora in Folk Music:

The Kora was adapted from traditional west African music into Afro-Folk music played by African-Americans. The Kora was played among the djembe, the banjo, the bones and many more. Afro-folk music is about telling stories with emotion, and the Kora allowed African-Americans to do just that with its unique sound and impactful contributions not only to Afro-folk music but to music around the world. 


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