Kora (musical instrument) advice please.
August 3, 2007 3:35 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone who has experience learning, buying or listening to a Kora (musical instrument) please share it?

I've been very interested the music of the African musician Toumani Diabete lately and have been searching for a musical instrument to learn for a while. So any advice, experience or knowledge you can impart would be very useful, regarding learning or buying especially. (For those not in the know, a kora sounds like this)
posted by takeyourmedicine to Media & Arts (4 answers total)
There was a duo - violin + kora at a floating festival this summer in France. The music did not mesh all that well, but hearing the kora was interesting. It is loud, complex and the technique looks daunting since some of the strings appear to be squeezed against the neck of the instrument while others rely on finger pressure against the fingerboard to define the vibrating length. The body of the instrument is used as a drum as well.
posted by jet_silver at 4:20 PM on August 3, 2007

I had took a class at Oberlin College in ethnomusicology. The professor, Rodric Knight, demonstrated how to play the Kora for one class. The instruments he played and showed were acquired through his studies of African folk music. You might get in touch with him and pick his brain. A quick check at the Oberlin site reveals that he's still there.
posted by plinth at 6:51 PM on August 3, 2007

The kora is a beautiful instrument, but I'm not sure if it is a good choice as an instrument to pick up (unless you can find a dedicated and local teacher.) I imagine it isn't easy to find an instrument, and when you do, it will be a complex mess of strings that require a lot of maintenance (plus its big). If you did get one, you might be able to master a few interesting ostinato patterns, but the instrument usually accompanies the extemporaneous praise singing of a Jali (although, that probably isn't what you wanted to do with it anyway).

Since that was rather a negative assessment, let me also say something positive: there are lots of other cool African instruments worth looking into some of which you probably already know of (although, I totally understand the appeal of the kora.) The mbira/kalimba/thumb piano operates on a similar prinicple - interlocking finger patterns creating ostinati and melodies. They're cheap, durable, and available on the internet (you can even build your own pretty easily.) Otherwise, the Malagasy valiha, although from a totally different musical tradition, is a little bit smaller (although you'd have the same problem of where to get one and who to teach you.) What about the akonting? It's similar to the American banjo and might be more approachable that the kora.

At any rate, good luck with your search. Sorry that I didn't really answer your question, but heres a good website that you may or may not already know about that features some info on playing techniques (some of its in German, though.)
posted by imposster at 9:20 PM on August 3, 2007

Apologies if you already now all this, but I found some new info from that kora site I linked. For one thing, the site has a download for a sharware program that supposedly has tablature for some kora pieces. The site also has a relatively active forum where you can post questions. In the second post down, what did I find but a link to a Ebay UK store that sells koras over the internet. Seems like there might be enough resources out there for you to get started on your own.
posted by imposster at 9:54 PM on August 3, 2007

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