Kora [korro, cora]
- Roderic C. Knight
A large 21-string bridge-harp played by the male jali or jeli, professional musician of the Mande people of The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Mali (fig.1). The profession, called jaliyaa, also encompasses verbal arts such as oratory, genealogy and historical narrative, and women performers (sing. jali muso) excel as singers (see also Gambia, Republic of The).
The kora is similar in size and range to the guitar, but in sound it resembles the Egyptian plucked zither qanun. In appearance, it is unique. The body is made of a large half-calabash, about 40–50 cm in diameter, covered with cowhide to form the soundtable. The body is ‘spiked’ or pierced by a stout wooden pole, about 120–30 cm long, which forms both the neck and tailpiece. The player may sit or stand, but optimum resonance is achieved when the tailpiece rests on the floor. The player holds the instrument with the soundtable facing him, the calabash dome facing the listeners, and the neck towering above him. The cowhide forming the soundtable also extends part way over the gourd, and this portion is studded with decorative chrome tacks and cut with a soundhole to one side of the neck. The strings, extending downwards from collars along the neck, diverge into two planes and pass over notches on either side of a tall bridge mounted on the soundtable. Below the bridge the strings are knotted to anchor strings with a weaver’s knot, and the anchors in turn are looped around an iron ring in the tailpiece. From a frontal aspect, the player’s hands are barely visible as he holds lightly the dowel-like handgrips parallel to the neck and plucks the strings with forefingers and thumbs....