The Virtuosos

Like the concert harp seen in western countries, the kora demands much skill to play and the Jalis begin learning at a young age. The oral traditions, songs music and playing skills are passed down from father to son. Those of us who ever managed to get a good melody out of a stringed instrument, so simple as a mandolin, can only marvel at the skills of the kora players. It would be difficult to include a comprehensive list of notable kora players and our experience is mostly with the top players from Mali, but we will include some other well known players from surrounding countries.

The first kora music that we heard was played by Toumani Diabaté. We came across his playing, when looking for recordings of the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who had started recording in Mali in the 1970’s and then overseas in the 1980’s. He played Malian music and mixed it with jazz and blues. His first North American concert was in British Columbia in 1994. He recorded together with American Jazz guitarists and then there was a notable recording of a duo with Toumani Diabaté in 2005, which was our introduction to the kora. Sadly Ali Farka Touré died in 2006. Watching the video recording, made by them together, is a very nostalgic experience for those, who knew Ali Farka.

Following our introduction to kora music, we searched for and listened to the recordings of Toumani Diabaté and realised what we had been missing. In addition to Toumani Diabaté himself, his father Sidiki Diabaté, his younger brother Mamadou Diabaté and his son Sidiki, as a family, have made a major contribution to kora music. It is interesting to note that Sona Jobarteh, Toumani’s cousin from the Gambia, is the first African female kora player to come onto the world stage. Although Toumani remains our favourite, there are many other players, who also give much pleasure with their playing.

Here are some photographs of well known kora players.

Last updated: 2018-07-01 @ 15:33:05